Eased upon a 48-State Investigation
Conducted by The Reader's Digest
Illustrated by Ralph Clark
By ROGER Rus and JOHN PATRIC
"For six months," says The Neiv York Herald Tribune,
"the two authors of this perturbing little volume made a
nationwide investigation of the higher nature, if any, of the
American repairman. Buying a used car of distinguished
make, they engaged the assistance of a lady who looked
more helpless than she was, and traveled 19,000 miles, with
1,700 calls on repair shops."
"And no one," adds the Boston Post, "could ever pass
this book with indifference Whatever your experience with
repairmen may have been, you'll find its counterpart here.
You will point it out with great satisfaction, and you'll say:
'There! That's exactly what happened to me once.' And
you're lucky if it has happened only once. The Post can't
think of any subject for research that touches more people.
Buy this book, and you will get your money back, over and
over, in amounts saved through your wisdom."
"There are some amusing stories in it," says the Baltimore
Sun, and the Washington Post thinks that the funniest were
"the authors' experiences with the Rube Goldberg testing
machines used by some shops to impress customers."
"The articles in The Reader's Digest were interesting,"
remarks the Springfield Republican, "but they left room
for doubt. The book, however, with details of the almost
laboratory caution used by the authors in making their tests,
is alarmingly convincing."
"Before you start on an automobile trip," cautioned the
magazine Holiday seven years after this book first appeared,
"take the advice of Riis and Patric. The mechanics haven't
improved since they wrote REPAIRMEN MAY GYP You."
"It ought to help people avoid unnecessary expense," adds
the Neivark News, for, declares the Water bury American,
"this is authentic testimony." "It will help promote the
longevity," believes the Boston Globe, "of readers' watches,
radios, cars, and typewriters."
This survey was considered important enough by dozens
of American newspapers to warrant editorial comment such
as few books ever receive. Typical was this a part of an
editorial in The New York Times- "It performs a real
service for motorists." "By calling attention to the tricks
employed," adds the St.Louis Post-Dispatch, "it should help
to alert the public and discourage cheats."
This book is printed from the plates of the first edition,
with new front matter, 30 illustrations, a new jacket, and
a far finer, more durable binding.
For press comments about another book by one of the
authors of this one, see the inside of this jacket, the part
lies against the-book and is-usualkt-left blank.
"The Routes of the Expedition'
Ralph Clark's Map of a 1 9,000 Mile
Journey for Reader's Digest into
Every State, and 1 ,700 Repair Shops
e\*Sr / y~i
From the collection of the
z n m
San Francisco, California
"No matter what your experience
with repairmen may have been,
you'll find its counterpart here.
You will point it out with great
satisfaction and say: 'See! That's
just what happened to me!' '
The Boston Post
First, to Lioy May, that "good old horse'n wagon," who worked so hard
on these surveys. Next, to Robert Littell and William Cragin Lewis, whose
intelligent editorial discrimination helped reduce some 1,900 case histories,
hundreds of newspaper stories and thousands of readers' letters to the
compass of this book.
To Charles Huckins of Hux Cuts, and to Henry R. Diamond for the
fine dust jacket drawings, and to Post Photoengraving Co., especially pho-
tographer Phil Gordon, and etcher Bill Lambert.
To Bill Riis, for letting me redesign and republish.
To Sol Cantor and his fine crew at The Composing Room, Inc., for new
typesetting and to Louie Bloom of Berkeley for more of the same, but
mostly for the loan of a linotype machine to the author, who set most of
these lines himself. And for still more bits of special type setting, to Wallace
Kibbee and L. F. Deckard.
To tough old Doubleday, who, to avoid more trouble with Patric, sold
the plates of the unillustrated first edition, from which the text not the
front matter nor the final pages was printed, at salvage prices. To Steve
Johnson and Kingsport Press, for new electros.
To Ralph Clark, without whose painstaking artistic craftsmanship I
should never have attempted this new edition. All the drawings here are his
except for a few American Typefounders' ornaments, and some illustrations
taken from the jacket drawing.
To Eddie Boland and to Bud Whitaker, of The Berkeley Engraving
Company, for many of the photoengravings used in this edition.
To Moore's Truck Terminal, and Johnson-Hilliard, for invaluable trail-
er-parking privileges making possible an office-on-the-job. To The Ailing
& Cory Company, paper merchants, for many a kindness.
To Angelo Albanese, Henry Dodson, Joe Brancaccio, Phil Tamburino of
Russo's in New York, for many a useful photostat. To patient Phil Kirchner,
for the drawings from which Becker Bros, made the cover stamping dies.
To the entire staff of Kingsport Press in Kingsport, Tennessee, for the
fine job of book manufacture they have promised.
FRYING PAN CREEK
Florence, Oregon^ j I
/ :" -./H-' *
Books by John Patric
SIMON LEGREE'S BOOK
a compilation of amiable hoaxes and of
humor columns, from The Daily Texan
bound collection of illustrated articles
on The United States, Czechoslovakia,
Hungary, Italy, Spain, Japan, etc., from
The National Geographic Magazine, in
a limited edition
FOR AUNTIE'S SAKE
a MS play, produced several times by
The Carolina Playmakers
REPAIRMEN MAY GYP YOU
(with Roger William Riis) : the famed
Reader's Digest survey of watch, radio,
automobile repairmen the whole story
YANKEE HOBO IN THE ORIENT
a journal of adventure in China, Japan,
Korea and Manchuria, uniformly bound
with Repairmen May Gyp You
now in preparation: a tale of boyhood
journeys in the United States, uniform
with Yankee Hobo in the Orient
Roger William Riis, son of the late, great Jacob
Riis, author of the classic Making of an American,
is a prolific magazine writer whose articles appear
regularly in national magazines. He is currently a
roving editor of The Reader's Digest.
This has been one of the most widely discussed journalistic projects
ever undertaken. Parts of the book were first printed in The Reader's
Digest in a series of articles titled The Repair Man Will Gyp You If
You Don't Watch Out; The Radio Repair Man Will Gyp You If You
Don't Watch Out; The Watch Repair Man Will Gyp You If You
Don't Look Out, and a fourth article that summarized the tremendous
reader reaction. Millions of reprints have been distributed. Excerpts
have appeared in newspapers and trade journals everywhere. Parts of
this book have been reprinted in Canada and in Great Britain, and in
translation, in many other parts of the world, notably Latin America.
Radio dramatizations of some of this material have been presented over
national broadcasting networks in both the United States and Canada.
ACE RADIO &
by Doubleday, Doran & Co., Inc.
Country Life Press
Garden City, N.Y.
by John Patric, and published at
Frying Pan Creek
1 Introduction 1
In which Bill Riis, in Jersey, wonders, "Did I get gypped?"
2 Pat's Letters 12
"But 'tisn't easy, Bill, to work out a uniform test-for-gyppery."
3 Automobiles 53
"Lady, your manifold is gone; so's your carburetor!"
4 Radios 126
"Never give the customer his old parts." The Radio School.
5 Watches 158
"/ show you somedings. Vy should I schwindle people?"
6 Typewriters 185
"The more ignorant the customer, the more he oughtta pay."
7 Vacuum Cleaners and Electric Irons 204
"The power company keeps 'em running. They use juice!"
8 What Is Your Experience? 210
"It's cheaper to buy a new one than to fix the old one"
9 Trade Reactions 227
"Dai's all right. I'm an honest mechanic. I live on hot air."
10 Magazine Excerpts 243
"Let's not kid ourselves. . . . But people forget quickly."
11 Aftermaths 250
"Irresistibly, naturally, they set out to rook you."
12 Doctors and Lawyers 261
"Now why do you pick on us? Just look at the other guy!"
13 Conclusion 267
More laws will never make men honest. Pride often does.
Later surveys show television repairmen are even worse gyps
and far less competent than radio men. Copyright page
Within a few years, because of improper care and servicing, these
fine machines which might otherwise, still faithfully, have been
serving the original owners are scrapped. Page i
Well-cared-for cars of yesteryear are proudly driven today by
members of many really exclusive auto clubs. Page n
In his old Lincoln, by the light of a standard-size six-volt bulb
hooked to the car batteries, Patric wrote the story of the pains-
taking preliminary explorations in letters to Riis. Page 12
The mechanic, before he gave the motor more than a glance,
pushed to our car one of the most impressive Rube Goldberg
machines ever used to convince a customer. Page 52
Of 304 radio shops of every type in every State and in Mexico,
195 tried, by one device or another, to take advantage of the
customer's ignorance. Facing page 52
We always insisted upon an itemized bill before we paid. How
gyps hated to itemize! We received 74 different explanations of
what was wrong. And only one was correct. Facing page 53
One dark Saturday evening a well-traveled coupe pulled up in
front of a two-pump gas station in New Jersey. Page 53
The more imposing radio and television shops are less apt to be
truthful to their patrons, especially strangers. Elaborate "test
panels" are often padded with dummy dials. Page 126
American radio tubes are all marked "Made in U. S. A." We
scratched off the periods. No repairman ever noticed, but we
could always spot our own tubes: "Made in U S A" Page 757
In San Antonio, a tinker, pulling a tool-laden child's wagon,
quickly and well did the watch job with a razor blade. Page 158
The words "certified" and "guaranteed," in watchmakers' ads,
mean nothing whatever. Nor do his memberships in the trade
or "horological" associations protect the customer. Page 184
Watch and clock repair shops need no swank. Facing page 184
Of 150 average, run-of-the-street typewriter shops tested, two-
thirds gypped either the customer or the typewriter, or both.
Incompetence and carelessness were usual. Facing page 185
Most of the typewriter men left the machines in worse shape than
they found them. The investigators' typewriters were soon vir-
tually wrecked by inept "mechanics." Page 185
Donald Duck takes our advice about itemized bills and old parts.
His bill is two feet long. Junk fills his car. Page 203
When the factory kept a watchful eye on its dealers, they told us
the truth in a much larger percent of our test cases. Page 204.
It's harder to fool truck drivers or motorcycle boys. Page 209
At Reader's Digest, Mary Steyn, of Editorial Correspondence,
begins to hear from the more articulate repairmen. Page 210
"Tune-up Specialist" was, we found, almost synonymous with
"Gyp." And "certified experts" meant nothing. Page 226
In Lincoln, Illinois, a radio man gets tough. Page 227
Famous jewelry names outcharged the little fellows, in spite of
their eloquent claims of "dependability." Page 242
"The male investigator and his female secretary" are pictured
in a most uncomplimentary way by Motor Age. Page 243
Riis and Patric are subjects of "$1000.00 Reward." Page 250
We had already found that eye doctors often lied. Among them,
Riis had found many unethical operators. Page 261
"More garagemen starve to death than customers." Page 267
Caspar Milquetoast finds an honest mechanic this time, but, as
Cartoonist Webster tells us: "he doesn't always." Page 271
To DeWitt Wallace
whose breadth of interest and militant fairness
have so often and so well served
the American people.
Illustrated by Ralph Clark
Clifton, New Jersey
One dark Saturday evening not long ago, a well-
travelled coupe pulled into a small New Jersey gas
station the kind of country place where the owner-
operator lives on the premises.
"Ten gallons, please," said the motorist.
The service station operator in this case a white-
haired man of friendly dignity and courtesy went
through the usual motions. His pump whirred busily;
its gallonage dial went around until it reached the
figure U 10."
Then the motorist paid and drove away.
It had been a thoroughly routine affair.
2 REPAIRMEN MAY GYP YOU
Automobile drivers buy gas millions of times a
day. This time, however, there was a difference.
After the motorist had driven a mile or so down
the road, he glanced idly at his gas gauge.
It read "EMPTY."
That had been its reading before the purchase of
the ten gallons a few minutes earlier.
Perhaps, the driver thought, his gauge had bro-
ken. He stopped to investigate. He tried in vain to
get a stick past the curve in the gooseneck of the tank.
Finally he decided to return to the gas station and
consult. Maybe that pump had not worked.
The old man was obviously upset at the possibility
that his pump had delivered no gas.
"I wouldn't have had that happen," he protested.
"I don't understand it. It never happened to me be-
fore. The pump acted all right. I'm sure you got the
gas. Let's figure how to reach in there and find out."
But the motorist had another idea.
"This is a 20-gallon tank," he said. "Put in gas
until it runs over; then from twenty we subtract the
number of gallons it takes. That way we find out how
many gallons are in it now."
So they pumped until gas splashed over, and it
took nineteen gallons. The gas station man was genu-
inely apologetic, and if a human face reliably regis-
ters, he had been honest. He was reluctant to accept
any money for any of the gas. As the motorist drove
away, the old man walked back into his home, shaking
his head, seeming to mumble uncertainly to himself.
That night, in Atlantic City, the same driver
turned his car over to the hotel porter for delivery
to the hotel garage for storage. In the morning he
went himself to get it.
On the bill was an item of $2.50.
"What's that for?" the driver asked.
The attendant consulted some records.
u You had a flat tire. We fixed it," he replied.
"I didn't have any flat tire when I drove in here."
"No," replied the attendant. "It went flat during
the night sometime."
So the motorist paid and started homeward.
On the way, the incident of the high-priced noc-
turnal flat tire and the deceptive gas pump came to-
gether in his mind, and a more or less idle thought
was born :
"I wonder whether both those cases were on the
level, or whether both were deliberate gyps?"
Perhaps the gas man was honest; perhaps the
Atlantic City garage was not. That was the way it
had seemed. How would it run throughout a motor-
ist's experience? Some service men were O.K. Some
"What would the actual percentage be ? Wouldn't
it be interesting to take a car and visit ten or twenty
stations for some identical service, and see how they
With these thoughts, there was born an idea that
grew into a nationwide survey of repairmen here
recorded. The motorist was Roger William Riis, co-
author of this book. He had previously made investi-
gations for The Reader's Digest, and the following
4 REPAIRMEN MAY GYP YOU
week he casually mentioned the vague idea to DeWitt
Wallace, founder and editor of that magazine.
Mr. Wallace caught the suggestion instantly, and
with the judgment that made him the ablest editor
of our time, he enlarged upon it.
"It's got great possibilities," he said. "Let's get
at it right away. I know a fellow who can help you."
At this point, John Patric came into the story.
He had owned 23 different cars, most of them jalopies
he fixed himself. But he had driven new cars, too, that
others had serviced, and he remembered like inci-
dents: In a Sacramento storage garage he once had
found on his windshield a bill for $5.50 for a new
upper radiator hose, and had been told that "it
must have sprung a leak just about the time you drove
in, because it was pouring water all over our floor.
Of course we knew you'd want it fixed before you
ruined your motor."
Another time, Patric recalled, he had been check-
ing over some bills from a Seattle garage that for
three months had regularly serviced his car, and had
found that each time that car was lubricated, he had
been charged for a pound of transmission grease a
total of ten pounds in not more than that many weeks,
allegedly pumped into a transmission and rear end
that did not leak!
Yet, Patric insisted, these were exceptions. Garage
men would be found to be "95 per cent honest just
wait and see !"
Though our critics later charged that we had
deliberately set out to find gyps (one garageman
charged that the whole affair had been "conceived in
iniquity and born in sin"), such was not the case.
While it was true that acts of servicemen them-
selves are responsible for this book by making us
wonder what the percentage of honesty would be,
none of us at any time foresaw the way our survey
would turn out.
We were interested only in a journalistically fool-
proof job, and nothing more.
Obviously, as we often remarked, it would make
a good story whatever we found. If the repairmen
proved to be virtually 1 00 % honest, that would make
fine, heartwarming reading for their fellow Ameri-
cans. If, on the other hand, they proved to be nearly
100% crooked, that also would be an interesting
if alarming story. And any intermediate percentage
would be equally good.
Wallace and Riis believed that Patric should
cover at least "seven or eight states enough to get a
good cross-section." But Patric had other ideas. With-
out discussing his plans in detail with either his col-
league or his editor lest they be vetoed he hoped
to include in his survey every state in the Union, and
Mexico and Canada. Editorial deadlines didn't allow
a Canadian check, but a great Canadian newspaper
made one for us, with results identical to ours.
Too, Patric wanted to spot-check mechanics in
the largest possible number of towns and cities. Ten
different checks in five different towns would be more
interesting, he reasoned, than ten in one town.
Riis suspected that if we were to find gyppery
6 REPAIRMEN MAY GYP YOU
commonplace, it was likely that women, because of
their more limited knowledge of mechanics, would
be gypped more often and more flagrantly than men.
It was to test this theory that Patric hired Miss Lioy
May, who, dressed simply and inexpensively, looked
and acted the part of an ordinary American housewife
in modest circumstances who couldn't afford to be
One day, as the beginning of the actual survey
drew near, Wallace and Patric were driving together
from Pleasantville to New York. Patric had ex-
plained to his editor the simplicity of each minor
maladjustment the loose wire, belt, or tube that
would be the basis of each test, and how simply, easily
and quickly an honest mechanic could correct it even
"What percentage will make some kind of
charge, do you think?"
"No more than half, Wally maybe even fewer."
Wallace rode in silence awhile. Then he said:
"Pat, can't we pay all of them?"
"It won't take any of them more than a minute or
so to put our equipment back into fine running order
and they'll all see immediately what's wrong."
"That's not my point," Wallace replied. "We'll
be paying whatever the crooks care to charge us, and
paying many honest men nothing. It isn't fair," he
"But, Wally," Patric protested again, "there'll
be some men who simply won't accept anything for
the slight and quick adjustment they'll have to make."
"Well, it's up to you to find a way to induce all of
them to accept something," Wallace replied, with
finality. "Otherwise, though we take but a few min-
utes of time from each honest man we encounter, we
will in the aggregate take days of their time without
recompense. I won't do it."
It was Patric's turn, now, to drive in silence down
the parkway, thinking, and sometimes thinking aloud.
"They might smell a survey if I insisted too
hard," he said. "I suppose I could send each one an
anonymous dollar. But that would cost Reader's
Digest many hundreds of dollars."
"Well, so so all right, I guess," replied Patric,
still thinking. "Say, Wally !
"Let's wait until the survey is over and the stories
published in the magazine. Then let's write a grateful
letter to each honest guywhether he makes a charge
or not and send him a complimentary subscription to
The Reader's Digest"
"Swell!" said Wally.
"I'll bet," he added, "all of Wll renew it!"
How many actually did renew, the authors of this
book do not know. But we found that a surprising
number were already subscribers, and merely had
their subscriptions extended thereby.
We know, too, that there were repercussions both
heartening and sad. Some honest mechanics were
promoted with pay raises by honest bosses.
At the Mayflower Garage in Los Angeles at mail-
time one morning the boss hurried out on the service
8 REPAIRMEN MAY GYP YOU
floor, beaming, with a letter in his hand signed "De-
Witt Wallace." He gave our mechanic the day off.
The mechanic happily went out to the beach for the
first time in years, passed the honesty-earned holiday
lolling in warm sands beneath a sunny California sky
and was so badly sunburned that he couldn't work
for weeks !
Television repairmen we did not survey separate-
ly. First, television hadn't become universal. Second,
the same shops repair both radio and television sets.
Following somewhat the pattern we developed,
many magazines have surveyed many other service
fields. Recently, one of them investigated a large
number of television repair shops, with findings akin
to those of our radio survey.
As a new wrinkle, a skilled television man went
from shop to shop "seeking work." Real television
servicemen were so scarce that he never had to prove
his skill, seldom show his tools. The first question was
always: "Have you a car, so you can bring in the
sets?" If he had, he was hired.
Automobiles and radios, watches and typewriters,
electric irons and vacuum cleaners and such things
cost more today than they did a few years ago, despite
much technical progress in manufacturing methods.
Television sets cost more than they ought to. Each
dollar used to produced them, all along the line, is
split by taxes into a fraction of its former self. Most
Americans cannot afford new models when the old
cease to function properly. Wars come, manufacture
is suspended. Americans must get along with the old.
Under those circumstances, the public ought to
deal wisely with the repairman, and the repairman
capably and fairly with his public.
The "capably" is far more important than the
"fairly." If the repairman gyps his customer out of
a dollar or two on a simple overcharge, that's that;
it isn't admirable, but it isn't serious. But if he says he
has repaired a car, asserts that he has packed the
wheel bearings and checked the brake fluid when he
has not, then he sends the motorist out on the road
with confidence in a car that does not deserve it.
Worse, he lays that car open to danger of serious
further damage, even disablement.
Pursue the chain of events from factory-to-scrap-
heap where most cars land too soon.
When an automobile gives its owner repeated
trouble, he trades it in. The second owner has more
trouble, and the third, still more. The "blue book"
value of the car grows less and less, falling much
faster than should be the real worth of that piece of
Finally, in six or eight years, another automobile
is in the junk yard. It should still be a fine machine,
which might even yet have been serving its original
There was a time when owners of "old model"
automobiles, especially well-cared-for, were laughed
at. But today these cars of ancient vintage are in
great demand, are driven pridefully, and are often
worth more money if old enough than new ones of
the same make. America has many really exclusive
10 REPAIRMEN MAY GYP YOU
automobile clubs whose members, much looked-up-to,
photographed constantly, travel widely in their care-
fully-serviced automobiles of yesteryear.
The early-day car that survived yesterday's roads
will run anywhere on today's highways.
In calling the American motor car a "fine ma-
chine," we make a gross understatement. The product
of America's automotive industry is truly one of the
brightest achievements of a race of men who became
creative by being free. Not only does it do to virtual
perfection the job for which it was built, but it func-
tions with an absolute minimum of trouble. It is by
far the costliest and most intricate piece of machinery
ever entrusted to the average man ; yet, left alone and
provided with its few simple needs, it performs its
many highly complex functions day in and day out,
summer and winter, whether driven by a skilled me-
chanic or by an elderly lady who could not distinguish
between a hydramatic transmission and a carburetor.
Further to romance about this miraculous crea-
tureit does more than merely carry us : it warms us
in winter; it cools us in summer; it gives us light at
night ; it magic-carpets the parlor sofa into the roman-
tically moonlight countryside ; it brings us the music
of the moment and the news of the world even as it
The automobile is incomparably our best servant
and our most satisfactory inanimate friend. Some-
times, indeed, it seems not at all inanimate. In truth,
the gypping of this machine is far more despicable
than is the gypping of its owner.
GRANDPAS FIRST AiONIYCAR
CRITICS OF THE RESULTS of our survey have
charged that we deliberately set out to find re-
pairmen crooked, and that in order to insure that
finding we selected an unusual car, the Lincoln
Zephyr, and devised a mean and unusual ail-
Precisely the opposite is true. DeWitt Wallace
told us to make a survey and get the facts. Then
our reasoning proceeded this way:
PAT'S LETTERS 13
In order to test a large number of garages we
would have to present to each of them a simple,
clear-cut problem in repair. We would have to
present exactly the same job to every garage. It
was just like an examination in mathematics : we
wanted to ask each repairman a mechanical
equivalent of the problem "how much is two
times two?" If he should reply "Five," it would
be because he would profit thereby.
The first requirement was a sort of grand-aver-
age car, we thought. Not a Rolls-Royce nor an
Isotta-Fraschini, nor a Ford. After some study
we selected a 1939 Buick sedan and bought it
secondhand. We bought it from a known and
reliable authorized Buick dealer for $600. The
dealer, whom we trusted, assured us the car was
in excellent condition, not to be improved upon.
With that Buick, in December of 1940, we
made a test survey. In subsequent findings we
made no use of the discoveries collected with the
Buick. At that time we were not starting the
actual survey itself, we were prospecting around
to find just how to conduct the survey. Both au-
thors of this book drove the Buick to garages in
New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Connecti-
14 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
cut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
John Patric, whom Mr. Wallace asked to do
the eventual traveling when the survey should
start and who had done prior work for the Read-
er's Digest, managed the painstaking prelim-
inary explorations. The story of them is best told
in his letters to Riis.
DEAR BILL :
Since yesterday morning I've had the Buick in six
garages. I don't think the Buick dealer who sold you
the car and said it was in perfect condition was quite
truthful. There seem to be quite a few things really
wrong with the car or at least things that could be
fixed legitimately. However, for this preliminary test
trip I'm letting the garagemen do pretty much what
The first thing they always ask is : "What seems to
be the matter with it?"
"It seems to run all right," I say, "but I just
bought it last week and I'm going on a long trip with
it. I want you to check it over and see if it needs any-
thing to put it in first-class shape."
Garagemen seem astonished. Why should a stran-
PAT'S LETTERS 15
with a New York license come in with a car
that's running fine? They aren't used to it. Most of
them don't know quite what to do. The cars they get
are usually in trouble.
Of course I'm careful to leave everything up to
them. So most of them drive it around the block,
come back, say, " She seems to be in pretty fair shape.
I'd suggest only a lube job, an oil change, and a tune
Well, Bill, after I got the car greased once, got
those nearly new plugs cleaned once, got the crank-
case filled with fresh oil, I have to say that's been
done. Then they say: "Well, then, I guess you're
O.K.," as much as to ask: "What did you come here
for, anyway? What's the big idea?"
The next guy, though, a little more enterprising,
will suggest flushing the transmission and rear end
and filling it with "winter-grade" lubricant. But that,
too, can be done only once, legitimately.
I've been told that's sometimes a racket. I know
that service stations have been known to charge for
this job and then not do it. But to investigate it would
mean getting under the car each time, taking a sample
of lubricant, and testing it to be sure it was actually
new. And once the job had been done legitimately,
you couldn't make another test without draining out
1 6 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
the new lubricant and putting old stuff back in.
Where'd we get the old stuff? It's usually dumped
into the barrels of crankcase drainings. Anyhow, it
would be a dickens of a job, and very slow.
The only way we could spot this kind of gyppery
would be to stay and see if it were done. Then, of
course, it would be done though unnecessarily after
the first time. But you couldn't blame a service-station
man for that, because there isn't one used car in a
hundred that wouldn't benefit to some extent from
fresh lubricant. And how would a serviceman guess
that this was the exception? He'd probably, if he
were honest, drain the transmission and differential
just on general principles, if the customer were will-
ing, knowing that gears would last a lot longer if
that job were done more often.
But I'll keep on trying to find the right kind of
DEAR BILL :
Same old story today. These tests don't prove
anything except that some mechanics are good and
PAT'S LETTERS 17
some are not. The dealer who sold you the car said
everything had been tuned up for you. But I met a
most painstaking, hard-working mechanic in Bridge-
port today. He did a lot of things that improved the
performance of the car. He said : "If you don't mind,
I'll drive the car home to lunch. It's my favorite
testing route, and I know how this model ought to
perform on it." He took a few tools with him and
made some adjustments en route. Carburetion is cer-
tainly better. The motor no longer stalls in traffic.
The generator commutator was pretty bad and
needed undercutting. The copper segments that de-
liver current to the brushes are insulated, as you
know, with mica. That insulation should be lower
than the copper. Ours wasn't. The commutator was
literally "bumpy," and that's what made the needle
oscillate. The battery seems to be down a little, but
the fellow thought it would charge up again.
He worked on the car for an hour and a half and
charged me $2.25, at the rate of $1.50 an hour. He's
all right. He fixed a couple of uncertain light con-
nections and did a lot of other little things. He
rents a little shop in the corner of a big storage
I got talking to another customer of this man, who
said, "He's the only mechanic in town I'll let even
1 8 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
look at my car. The chap used to be foreman of a
big dealer garage and quit when he was reprimanded
for refusing to gyp a woman."
Newark, New Jersey
DEAR BILL :
Before I came down here I stopped in a few places
along the Boston Post Road. One fellow his shop
was pretty busy tested the car and said it didn't
need anything. He charged me fifty cents.
The next man wasn't so busy. He was one of the
smart salesman type. After he looked the car over
he said : "Before you start on your long trip you need
your valves ground and you need a new battery."
So I said: "The fellow who sold me the car said it
was in perfect condition, but of course / don't know.
Will you tell me why you think it needs these things?"
For reply the fellow tested the battery again for
my benefit. He used a hydrometer. One cell read
about 1175 specific gravity and the others were
around 1275, where they should be. So I knew the
hydrometer was O.K. I told him I'd just had the
generator fixed and thought that that might have
PAT'S LETTERS 19
something to do with it. He said, "No. If that were
the cause, all the cells would be low.
"Your valves/' he continued, "have never been
ground. There's never been a wrench on these stud
nuts." He showed me then continued: "The car has
gone at least 20,000 miles, although I think the
speedometer doesn't register all the miles. But even
when a motor's gone 20,000 miles it always helps to
grind the valves."
Fair enough, Bill, no argument there. I paid him
for his time.
I'm beginning to think that either all garages are
100 per cent honest, and these things people say
about them are wrong or due merely to carelessness
and inefficiency; or else we've an entirely wrong
What would happen if we brought in a car that
seemed to have something terribly wrong but which
was something instantly seen by any mechanic and
fixed in a jiffy? Would they all tell the truth?
If garagemen have been unjustly pilloried all these
years, that's a story, Bill.
20 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
DEAR BILL :
One mechanic tested the car today by driving a
few blocks with me. Right away he said: "Wheels
seem out of line." He got out, looked at the front
tires, went way up ahead, and sighted along the front
wheels toward the back wheels. u Yeah, they're out,"
he said. "I can't tell how much until I measure. But
they're out, and it'll cost twelve bucks to line them
Now that's a funny thing, Bill. Twenty garages,
so far, including the ones you visited, tested that car,
and not one of them said anything about the wheels.
Nobody even mentioned checking the alignment
not even that good guy in Bridgeport. And I didn't
hit anything no rough spots in the roads and no
curbs to get the wheels out of line.
But didn't you say that some fellow tested the
steering by driving the car over curbs up and over
curbs the day you bought it? That might have
knocked them out. I think you chaps who bought the
car were a pair of innocents representatives of that
great class of Americans for whom the dealers touch
up the rusty spots, paint the motor, dress the top,
clean the upholstery, polish the body, and say: "This
PAT'S LETTERS 21
car was driven just 20,000 miles by an old lady who
never had it over thirty, who brought it in for lubri-
cation every thousand miles without fail, and who
sold the car because of poor health."
Otherwise the usual thing: "We'll give her a good
lube job, change the oil, and tune the motor." Noth-
ing new. If work is slack, they're a little ingenious.
If they're busy, the car seems in better shape. I al-
ways pay them for their tests.
The wheels are out of line.
I went to three places that specialize in wheel
alignment. To each I said : "Please check the wheels.
I'll pay for the test at your usual rates. But I can't
have the job done no matter how badly I need it
until I return to New York."
So these fellows would have gained nothing by
lying. The first one said: "Your wheels toe-out three
degrees. They should toe-in one sixteenth of a de-
gree. I can't check the camber and caster until I've
22 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
corrected the toe-out." I paid him a dollar. To fix it
would be $12.
The next guy said: "The toe-out is three fifths
"Does that mean three degrees?" I asked.
"No," he replied. "Toe-out is never measured in
degrees. I've checked the camber and caster. The
camber is reverse three fourths inches for the right
front wheel and one fourth inches for the left front
wheel. Also, a steering knuckle is bent." He went on
with a lot of fancy technical explanations that weren't
intended, I suspect, to be informative merely im-
pressive. "I charge $1.00 for testing, but if you let
me fix the car, we'll knock that off. Our charge is
$8.00 for labor, $3.00 for parts."
The third fellow had the same make of aligning
equipment the second man had, but he didn't go into
detail. He said: "The front end is pretty bad. I can
fix you up for $6.50. The usual price is $12." I said
that was pretty reasonable, and then he said: "You
also need a motor tune up."
"How much is that?"
"Sixty cents per cylinder."
Just to sound innocent, I asked which cylinders
"The whole motor needs tuning," he said.
PAT'S LETTERS 23
And there's how many cylinders? Six? Then that's
But the motor doesn't need the kind of tune up
he'd give it for $3.60. The carburetor is just right
now. The plugs are new and clean. I know the points
are O. K., for I watched a crack mechanic check them
yesterday. I think this fellow just tries to sell every-
body a "tune up." In my case he'd add $3.60 and
$6.50 and get $10.10, or about the regular price
for an alignment job. I've had plenty of experience in
shops like this.
But how can we be sure, Bill? This stuff is all
I've found out little except that garages don't
agree. They are certainly careless in checking auto-
mobiles. No wonder people who get their cars "all
carefully checked over" before they go on trips
often have unexpected trouble. Answer is, the cars
Bill, we've got to find something else. We're using
up a lot of time, spending a lot of money, and finding
out nothing that we didn't know before.
I've an idea that these men are 95 per cent honest
but just terribly careless. Maybe that's our story. Or
maybe, as you suggest, women get gypped more
than the men. I'll try to get hold of a good feminine
24 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
assistant, though it would be a tough assignment for
DEAR BILL :
I just thought of something.
Years ago I bummed a ride West with a crippled
man who couldn't drive very well. On that rocky pass
between the Imperial Valley and San Diego we came
upon a Buick, stuck. I'd had a Buick like it and had
done a lot of work on it. His trouble was simple.
The high-tension wire from the coil which is held
in place by friction had simply worked loose. I
pushed it down and started his motor. He had no
He wrote a note on a card, gave me the card, and
asked me to stop and see him when I reached San
Diego. The man ran a big hotel there, Bill, and he
insisted that I occupy a suite as his guest while I was
there. They were the best hotel rooms I was ever in.
The management sent up free breakfasts and the
latest magazines. It's amazing how grateful that guy
PAT'S LETTERS 25
So I figure I'll pull the coil wire loose on our
Buick. That trouble ought to be easy to find. If /,
who am no mechanic, found it for the hotel man, any
garageman should find it for me.
I'll let you know how it works.
DEAR BILL :
I'm glad you agree that our former procedure
with the Buick isn't producing anything that would
make a story. Your own preliminary tests were very
much like mine.
I've stalled a few times by pulling the coil wire
out. Sometimes I'm towed in, sometimes the mechanic
brings his tools. If I'm there, they find the trouble
right away. Yesterday one mechanic charged me for
"adjusting the points," which, as you know, don't
need any adjusting. He didn't say a word about the
wire being out of its socket. His bill read simply:
"Repair Buick," and when I asked him to write down
"adjust points," he got rather mad at me.
But I find it hard, except in a case like that one, to
26 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
be sure whether I'm gypped or not. After all, what's
a fair charge for a tow?
Trenton, New Jersey
DEAR BILL :
I tried a lot more experiments today.
Been trying to figure out a way so I can drive that
Buick right up to a garage and stall it out in front, so
there'll not be a towing charge to confuse the issue.
So I tried pulling the coil wire almost out, running
a string doubled through a little hole in the dash,
and pulling the wire all the way loose with that
string, then pulling the string back in.
The first garage I tried, it worked swell. Except
that the car was stalled right near the front entrance,
so when I coasted to the entrance, I blocked it. I
caused a lot of trouble. The mechanics were out, and
a couple of customers and I had to push the car out
of the way. Just then one of the mechanics came back,
apologizing for being gone. He fixed the wire,
charged me nothing, "because you've been waiting
so long." I felt like a heel and a chisler.
I stalled the car by the same procedure in front
PAT'S LETTERS 27
of another garage, and the shop foreman looked at
me through a fishy eye. "Those coil wires do work
loose sometimes on rough roads," he said, looking
significantly at the smooth street. "Funny it hap-
pened right in front of our place."
I think the next fellow saw the marks of the string
on the rubber insulation of the wire. But he didn't
say anything. Nor did he overcharge.
DEAR BILL :
If only I could get that wire back again without
lifting the hood and making myself conspicuous I Or
do something so that if I visit a garage that can't
take care of me I can drive away again. It's got to
be some trouble that can be created over and over
again without damage because we've got to cover
the whole country on this thing if we get a formula
that proves anything. You can put a spark-plug wire
back without tools, and so there'd be no tool marks
showing, even after 50 tests.
28 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
Having the damnedest luck. Somebody broke into
the Buick last night and stole all my stuff.
I had parked on Walnut Street, right in the heart
of Philadelphia, for a half-hour. When I came back,
somebody had jimmied open one of the "no-draft n
ventilators then apparently reached down with a
wire and opened the door.
It's quite a loss all my baggage, my typewriter
(which is why I'm writing this letter with a pen at
2 A.M.), my two fine cameras from National Geo-
graphic days, and all the rest of my photographic
equipment including flash guns, filters, light meters,
etc. They took some of my clothes, including all my
I found a cop who seemed a little bored by the
whole thing. He sent me over to the 2nd Detective
Division, where I wrote out an inventory for De-
tective Tom Donahue to send out over the teletype.
The loss comes to around $400.
I've just got to get another car for this survey and
hand pick it very carefully. First, I'll have to find
a make and model that can be decommissioned easily,
hundreds of times, without showing any marks. It
PAT'S LETTERS 29
must be something that still lets the car run but
very badly indeed. And yet it must be something that
will cause no damage to the motor.
IVe thought of loosening distributor wires, but if
they weren't entirely removed, they'd still make con-
tact. And anyway, a car that's missing on a cylinder
or two would gallop and jerk; and if driven hun-
dreds of miles that way might not be free of damage.
It's going to be a headache, Bill. Sometimes I wish
I'd never undertaken this job.
Pleasantville, New York
After talking with Ford dealers about methods
the Ford factory may use for checking its dealer
service departments I heard this one :
"A stranger with an out-of-state car came in one
day and said his car wasn't running right. I knew
right away his timing was retarded. I set the timing,
and because his car wasn't very old, didn't charge
U A couple of months later a factory man was in
30 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
and said: 'Jack, we checked up on your service the
other day. We sent a man in here with a slight diffi-
culty, easily fixed and you'd be surprised what we
found out about your service.'
"I was pretty scared, for all of us slip up once in
a while. I asked the fellow to explain, and finally he
told me: 'You rate 100 per cent in that test. Not
only did you set the timing quickly and accurately,
but you didn't charge the fellow anything because his
car wasn't very old, and you wanted him, you said,
to think well of it. More than that, you explained
carefully just what had happened and told him what
to do if it ever happened again. If everybody was
like that, Jack, we'd have a lot fewer service head-
So you see, Bill? If an outfit like Ford finds it
necessary to send checkers out to keep dealer service
efficient and honest, there must be a reason for it.
Suppose a fellow brought another make of car to a
dealer because his garage happened to be nearest?
Would the dealer be more or less honest with the
owner of a make of car other than the one he sold?
We're on the right track now. Something easier to
fix than a car out of timing : less hoary than the loose
spark-plug wire. I'll find it.
Harry Wilcox at the Digest suggested that we
PAT'S LETTERS 31
could puncture the diaphragm of the fuel pump. But
would that be easy to find? Could that happen acci-
dentally? The worst drawback is that every time we
made a test, we'd have to remove the fuel pump, take
it apart, and install a punctured diaphragm. That
would take time.
I've thought of disconnecting a gas line or an air
line. But again the men who tightened it up would
certainly put tool marks on the fittings, and this
would mean installing new lines and new fittings af-
ter each test or two.
I looked at Plymouths, Dodges, Chryslers, Fords,
Chevrolets, Nashes, LaSalles but the LaSalle is
getting into too much money. We've got to appear to
be in the financial position of the average man, who
shouldn't be gypped out of $3.00 by a repairman
if repairmen are gyps.
The Ford dealers in Mt. Kisco are friends of
Harry Wilcox. He took them into our confidence. I
tried, with their shop foreman, to find a way of mak-
ing a Ford or a Mercury run badly. We could throw
the timing out, of course, but that's a legitimate re-
pair operation. And it's one that Ford dealers are
more used to handling. Moreover, there isn't much
latitude to that adjustment, so that the trouble
wouldn't seem serious enough. Some shops mightn't
32 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
know exactly where to set the timing if they didn't
specialize on Fords.
I asked about the old standby, removing a spark-
plug wire. The foreman said: "That's an old one.
The Ford factory is always testing its service depart-
ments. TheyVe been using that spark-wire trick for
years. We're all on to it now."
That proves we're on the right track. If the Ford
Motor Company is quietly checking its dealers, there
must be some skulduggery.
Pleasantville, New York
DEAR BILL :
I've found it.
The Lincoln Zephyr has two coils, just as my old
'32 Lincoln has. These coils are right behind the fan,
cast as one unit in a plastic case. Two wires run from
the coils one from each. I went over to Mt. Kisco
and borrowed a new Zephyr from the Ford dealer.
It has plenty of pep. Then I stopped, took off a coil
wire and say! The car still runs, but gosh how it
runs ! Smooth enough, but no power at all. Scarcely
PAT'S LETTERS 33
go over thirty wide open. Won't climb even a little
hill except in low. Won't pass the old gravel trucks
carrying stuff for the Bedford overpass.
If a man didn't know the wire was off he might
think anything was wrong. Might think the clutch
was slipping for a minute. Might think the brakes
were dragging. Might think one set of points weren't
breaking. Might think half the plugs were fouled,
or the carburetor was bad. He just wouldn't know.
But once you lift the hood, that wire sticks out like
a bandage on a chorine's knee. There are so few
exposed wires under the Zephyr hood, Bill fewer
than in most motors, it seems. Almost all the wires
are enclosed, except this set.
Even a person that didn't know a thing about an
automobile engine would know the wire ought to
be connected to the post just as though a reading
lamp didn't work because it wasn't plugged in.
They asked me at the Digest if I wanted a new
Zephyr, but I'm not sure. If we did get gypped out
on the road, driving a new and expensive car like
that, some readers might say: "Oh, the investigators
probably looked like millionaires. / don't. / wouldn't
get gypped not like that."
I should think around $600 worth of automobile
is about right about average.
34 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
Before I do anything about buying another car,
Bill, I'm going to try the disconnected coil-wire trick
with my old Lincoln. It won't be as good a test, be-
cause anyone who looks under my hood will know,
from all the gadgets I've got, that I am at least
For example, I've got an extra generator driven
off an overlong belt, so I can build up the batteries
in my trailer and not have to use the trailer lighting
plant I built out of a lawnmower engine and a
starter generator. IVe put in extra gas tanks, con-
trolled by a lever on the dash, so I can use cheap
fuel for running in open country and high-test gas
for starting and hill-climbing. I've got rigged up a
system whereby the motor heats water in the trailer
tanks for the trailer shower. Hose lines run back
to the trailer, carrying hot water back and bringing
up cold until the trailer tanks are full of hot water.
I get pressure to the shower head by starting up an
old Cadillac power air pump, which I drive with an
old starter motor through a bicycle chain. The same
starter motor runs a suction pump so that if my
trailer is parked by a stream or lake I can turn it
on and suck my tanks full of water until the car
One look at these contraptions such of them as
PAT'S LETTERS -35
are on the old Lincoln and the mechanics I en-
counter will wonder why I'm stumped by a discon-
nected wire. So it is not a perfect test, but I'll try it.
I'll let you know how I come out. Think I'll try
it on the Boston Post Road again. It's pretty cold.
Don't know where I'll wait while the car is being
GREENWICH, CONNECTICUT, 1 1 150 P.M.
JANUARY 1 6
ROGER WILLIAM RIIS
522 5TH AVENUE
NEW YORK CITY
TESTED NINE GARAGES ON POST ROAD UP TILL
ELEVEN TONIGHT STOP TWO HONEST STOP SEVEN
GYPS STOP ALL REPLACED COIL WIRE STOP TWO TOLD
TRUTH, CHARGING FIFTY CENTS AND FORTY CENTS
STOP OF THE OTHERS, ONE SAID "HALF YOUR CAR-
BURETOR CLOGGED TWO-FIFTY," ANOTHER SAID:
"MOTOR OUT OF TIME STOP TOUGH JOB STOP TWO
SEVENTY-FIVE" STOP ONE SAID "POINTS TOO FAR
36 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
APART, NOT MAKING CONTACT' 7 STOP NEXT ONE
SAID : "POINTS TOO CLOSE TOGETHER, NOT BREAK-
ING CONTACT" STOP ONE SAID HE "CLEANED SPARK
PLUGS" BUT DIDN'T TOUCH THEM STOP HONEST
ONES WERE RUSSIAN JEW IN PORT CHESTER, COL-
ORED MAN AT GARAGE NEAR GREENWICH STATION
STOP WRITING DETAILS STOP BUT THIS FORMULA
PERFECT STOP WILL LOOK FOR ZEPHYR IF YOU AP-
Nearly two months had now gone into the
search for the ideal test. The importance of this
preliminary study lies in what we learned from
it. We learned, first of all, that we had to have
absolute, firsthand knowledge that the test car
was in unquestionable condition. We could not
take the word of anyone else for that, we had to
know, ourselves. We learned, secondly, that we
had to devise a neat, clean-cut problem for all
servicemen, and that it had to be such as would
permit driving the car into a garage and driving
it away again if the garage were too busy to re-
PAT'S LETTERS 37
pair it. Lastly, and somewhat academically, it
seemed best to find a trouble which would be
quickly obvious to any man, skilled or unskilled,
who might lift the car's hood, a trouble which
literally cried aloud to be spotted and repaired.
Having proceeded by slow trial and error to
this point we had decided that the 1939 Lincoln
Zephyr was the car we wanted. Patric found one
in New York. At the same time we found the ex-
pert mechanic we needed to condition the car
under our eyes.
New York City
DEAR BILL :
Harry Wilcox tells me that there's one really first-
class mechanic that he knows about in New York.
The fellow does a lot of work for the Reader's Di-
gest and has always been honest, thorough, and in-
dustrious. His name is Phil Confalone, and he rents
space for a modest shop at the Palisades View Ga-
rage, at 2OOth Street just where you make the last
turn off from the Hudson River Parkway before hit-
ting the toll bridge.
Although W. B. Levin, salesman for the Ford
38 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
Motor Sales on Broadway, where they have that
Zephyr, assured me that the car was in mighty fine
mechanical condition, he willingly went with me to
Phil Confalone's place.
"Confalone," by the way, is pronounced to rhyme
with "baloney," although he's remarkably free of it.
We took the Zephyr for a tryout. I wanted to be sure
there wasn't anything basically wrong with the car,
that it hadn't been in a wreck and then repaired.
Phil Confalone thinks, as I do, that the car has
run maybe 25,000 miles. It doesn't run too well. Phil
thought water was leaking into the crankcase. We
told Levin that if he'd take the car back to his shop
and pull the heads, we'd buy the car. All this pro-
viding he'd give us new heads if the old ones were
corroded plus gaskets and other parts necessary to
correct this trouble.
It took them two hours to get the head off the
left bank. Sure enough, the aluminum was eaten
away to such an extent that the gasket wouldn't hold.
"All right," said Levin, "we'll give you a new
"Let's look at the other one first," I said.
"But it doesn't leak on the other side," he pro-
"If one head's corroded, the other is bound to
PAT'S LETTERS 39
be," said Phil. "It's probably ready to start leaking
any time. Mr. Patric doesn't want any trouble with
this car once we get it fixed."
So they pulled off the other head, and sure enough
it was corroded too. Phil thinks the former owner
used some corrosive anti-freeze in his radiator. The
aluminum was decayed, sort of, for nearly a quarter
of an inch in places.
But the rest of the car seems to be in good shape.
Neither Phil nor I can find anything wrong that new
parts won't correct. So I agreed to buy the car for
$625 cash, provided they would supply without extra
charge the required cylinder heads, etc. about $40
worth of parts. They agreed to this, then asked me
to sign a contract with about fifteen hundred words
of fine print.
I sat back at Levin's desk and started to read.
The type was so darned small that it was slow work.
Levin said: "That's a formality. You don't have to
read all that. Nobody does."
I got rather mad at that remark. I don't like these
contracts that are drawn up by skilled lawyers in such
detail that the customer hasn't got a chance.
Levin waited impatiently while I read on and on.
"It says here," I remarked, "that no oral promises
not specifically set down herein are binding. It says
40 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
that I must take delivery at your door, whereas I've
specified delivery in Pleasantville."
U A11 that will be taken care of," said Levin.
I asked him to "type out a new contract, including
these items, since nothing oral is binding." I knew
it was perfectly absurd to ask their typists to write
out all that rigmarole, but I wanted to see what
they'd do. In the end I got first a notation on a
scratch-pad then a formal promise, written on the
firm's letterhead and signed by the sales manager,
agreeing to all the "oral promises."
Then I signed the contract.
Levin sighed with relief. Then, getting a little con-
fidential after the others had gone and only Phil
and I were at his desk, he said :
u Patric, you're one of the toughest customers I've
had in a long time. Most people come in, look at a
car on the floor, see that it's clean, take our word
for it that it's all right, and sign the contract without
reading it. If everybody were like you, my job would
be hell. But I'll tell you, people would have less com-
plaint about the used cars they buy. Thank heaven
more people aren't like you but they'd be better
off if they were."
I felt pleased. I didn't tell Levin why I was being
so particular. He was a good guy.
PAT'S LETTERS 41
I'm going down now and look for a good assistant
accomplice, as she'll eventually be called. I'm
sure you're right in thinking that women get gypped
more than men. I've got some employment agencies
looking for the right person.
New York City
DEAR BILL :
I'm having a dickens of a time finding an assistant
to go with me on that trip. Most of the girls who'd
like to take a jaunt like that think it would be a pic-
nic; they think I want a playmate I gather when I
talk to them. A couple of girls at one agency were
sincere enough, but they got cold feet when I talked
about the extent of the survey. The idea of traveling
about the entire country with a strange man, visiting
a different city every day, appalls them. I'm handi-
capped, too, by my inability to describe just what the
work will be.
If I explained the whole project in detail, word
of it might leak out to the trade journals, and our
job would be ruined. Too many people know of the
thing already. So some possible helpers I might get
42 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
are understandably suspicious when I can't go into
detail. Of course I don't mention the Reader's Di-
gest. Time enough for that when a girl gets started
on the job.
New York City
DEAR BILL :
Phil's got the motor torn down.
Under normal circumstances I think we could
grind the valves, clean the plugs, adjust the points,
check the carburetor, install those new heads, adjust
the brakes, and the car would be all right.
But I won't leave anything to chance. I told Phil
to buy everything new that he could possibly replace
on that motor. Specifically, I asked him to get a new
carburetor, new generator, new distributor, new fuel
pump, new gas lines, new plugs, new valves, new fan
belt besides, of course, such things as new rings and
new brake lining.
He protests vigorously.
"But Mr. Patric," he says, "there's not a thing
wrong with this fuel pump. It's in fine shape. It will
last 50,000 miles."
PAT'S LETTERS 43
"Never mind, Phil," I tell him. "Suppose you
know and I know that the fuel pump is all right.
Then suppose the first garage we visit tells us the
fuel pump is bad. Who is right? We know we are,
but how could we prove it? It's just the word of one
mechanic against another. But suppose we've in-
stalled a brand-new fuel pump. Suppose I've watched
you take it out of the Ford factory carton and put it
on. Then suppose a mechanic blames the trouble on
the fuel pump. Won't it be convincing to say the fuel
pump is new?"
So Phil buys a fuel pump.
When we come to the carburetor it's the same
thing all over again. "There's nothing wrong with
this carburetor, Mr. Patric," he says. "This carbure-
tor is perfect. A new one wouldn't be any better."
So I repeat what I said before, "Phil, Harry Wil-
cox says you're absolutely O.K. And I know you're
efficient by watching you work. But how about our
readers in Snohomish, Washington? Will they know
how good a mechanic you are? No, Phil. New car-
buretor. New everything. No matter how good the
old one is. You just take everything off that motor
you can get off; buy new stuff. Let me see you open
the cartons and install it. Let me see the old stuff.
There's got to be no question whatever about the
44 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
condition of this car! They'll accuse us of all sorts
of things, but this automobile is going to be in such
fine shape, and maintained so carefully, that I hope
nothing really goes wrong on the whole trip."
Phil says that by running sometimes with only
half a motor we'll dilute the oil with raw gas as
happens when there's excessive choking. I told him,
"We'll change the oil every 500 miles if necessary."
He agrees that this is the answer.
I still haven't found my accomplice. Gibbs had a
girl who wanted the job very badly, but she's running
away from a barren love affair and that won't do.
There was another young woman who seemed very
capable, so I took her out to lunch and got talking
to her about petty gyppery. She feels that it's all
right. "People expect it," she says. It doesn't make
her mad at all. She doesn't have enough interest, I'm
afraid, to carry her along when the going gets tough.
DEAR BILL :
I've found a gal who might be just the person
we're looking for. She's an old friend of the Leo-
PAT'S LETTERS 45
polds a family I've known for years. She's maybe
thirty-eight and the daughter of an honest old coun-
try blacksmith and wheelwright. She has a brother
who's a machinist in the Philadelphia Navy Yard
and another brother who's a foreman at the Glenn
L. Martin factory in Baltimore.
She's grown up around mechanics and tools and
has had several cars of her own. Her name, before
she was married, was Lioy May Hoke "Lioy" is
pronounced like u Loy" in "Myrna Loy." Then she
married a dental surgeon, Paul Schock, on the faculty
of the University of Pennsylvania. For many years
she has been a designer and decorator under the pro-
fessional name of Lioy May, which is the way her
cards and letterheads are printed.
During the World's Fair she worked for General
Electric in their television department, because of
her knowledge of colors and fabrics. From Jay Leo-
pold and others I learn that she's strictly honest and
extremely industrious. She can't type but she works.
Nobody who isn't willing to work fifteen or sixteen
hours a day could handle it. It's going to be tough.
She's coming up to see you. I've told her that only
if you approve is she hired.
46 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
Pleasantville, New York
Stopped off at Phil's garage again to see the
Zephyr. He says the brakes are all right for a long
time yet, but I tell him to put on new lining and re-
place everything he can. I don't know if some me-
chanic may tell us we're losing power because our
brakes are dragging, but he might. So I want the
brakes just right.
But Phil just wouldn't put in a new clutch. He says,
"There isn't the slightest possibility of any mechanic,
however stupid or however crooked, diagnosing our
disconnected coil wire as a bad clutch." We looked
the clutch over and gave it some tests, and of course
The Zephyr I've named it Lorelei because she'll
be a siren to lure the gyps is coming along. We put
in new valves and rings. You'd think Phil was recon-
ditioning an airplane motor for a flight across the
Pacific! I've been going with him to buy the new
parts, just so I can report that I saw them go in.
PAT'S LETTERS 47
Pleasantville, New York
I'm about ready to start. For the tests on other
things beside the car we've got the three radios and
the three watches, and I bought a GE vacuum
cleaner from Macy's and an electric iron. We're
about set for those repairmen too.
Think I'll take my dictaphone along on the trip,
Bill, and while my fellow stooge is driving I'll give
you some of our adventures orally. Just send you the
records. I'll leave the transcribing machine in your
office, and all you'll have to do is cock your feet up
on the desk in that comfortable office of yours and
listen to the plaints of the footsore investigators.
I'm going to send you the reports on different color
paper yellow for the car, pink for the radio, blue
for the watches, green for the typewriter, goldenrod
for the iron, and salmon for the vacuum. It may
sound silly, but you just wait until the reports pile in
it'll be easy to separate 'em.
48 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
Pleasantville, New York
We've just licked a little technical problem, the
kind that shows how darned careful weVe got to be
The wire we are going to disconnect has a ring, or
O-shaped, terminal that drops down over a long post
of brass. To remove the wire, we would have to take
the holding nut all the way off which could really
not happen by itself. That might make the service-
man suspicious. Further, he might easily mess up the
threads if he didn't have the right nut to replace the
missing one. For the ring-shaped terminal we have
substituted a U-shaped terminal, and all we now have
to do is loosen the nut a turn or so and slip the wire
backward off its post. The wire might easily do that
by itself from the fan blast. Both types of terminal
are common on cars, so our U-shaped job won't cre-
ate any suspicion or comment.
I bought one hundred extra nuts to take with us,
so that as fast as ours show damage we can install
The motor certainly looks clean for a three-year-
old car. So I've bought a little fly spray gun and
filled it with kerosene. When Phil's finished I'll spray
PAT'S LETTERS 49
the motor lightly with kerosene and then blow a little
dust through the radiator. I want the car to look as
if it's gone a few hundred miles since it's been out of
New York City
Called your office, but you were out.
I've been driving the Zephyr. Betty Jones drove
it to the bank in Pleasantville and back. I let her
drive it first in normal condition. She said it ran fine.
Then I had her stop, and I removed the coil wire.
Then she drove it again.
"What did you do to the car to make it run that
way? It's simply terrible," she said.
"All right, I'll lift the hood, and you look. See if
you can see anything wrong."
Of course she pointed to the wire right away.
Anybody, even an unmechanical girl, could see it.
I had Harry Harper drive it a ways. He, too, was
amazed at the simplicity of the project and at the
fine condition of the old car. "You sure picked some-
thing simple," he said.
50 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
Harry had a good idea. He suggested joining the
automobile club of New York. I think I will. Lioy
May's coming up from Philadelphia day after to-
morrow. I'm going to send her to New England for
a few days, trying all sorts of garages, and while
she's gone I'll have a talk with the A.A.A.
DeWitt Wallace thinks "the woman ought to
make most of the car checks." Too, he insists that
we pay every mechanic something, so as not to steal
their time. I suggested that at the end of the trip he
send a complimentary subscription to every honest
mechanic we'd met. He agreed.
Pleasantville, New York
Note the explanation we give the garages: "We
just bought this car for $625. We were going to buy
a new Ford, but on this car we saved a little over the
price of a new Ford. So we had it completely over-
hauled. It ran fine until just down the road a little
ways it suddenly lost all its power. It won't run over
thirty; it won't pass a Model T; it won't pull a hill."
PAT'S LETTERS 51
Then we say, "We're going out for a bite to eat" and
leave Lorelei to the mercies of the mechanic.
Pleasantville, New York
I was in your office, but they said you were in
I went in to see the A.A.A. I joined it first time
I've ever been a member. I always figured the A.A.A.
was for people who didn't like to change tires and
who always had trouble. But it does an amazing lot
I couldn't tell them what I was up to, of course.
But I did explain that I was going out on a story,
and that sometimes I was going to pretend to be in
trouble, "Just to get a chance to talk to people as I
use their telephone to call the A.A.A." I've told them
we'll pay all the bills that come in, for it wouldn't be
fair to misuse our membership when we weren't
really in trouble.
Right now the only way I can think of to see
whether the official garages are more honest than
those which do not bear the emblem is to stall Lorelei
52 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
on a pretty steep hill and then call the A.A.A. If they
see the wire, fix it, and don't try to make a big job
out of it, they're honest. And we'll pay whatever it
costs the A.A.A.
But I rather suspect that some of them may send
their wreckers out, haul us in and, while the A.A.A.
pays (supposedly for the towing) they might run
up a wholly phony shop charge against us. I hope
not. It would be a fine and constructive thing if we
could report that A.A.A. garages are truthful, re-
liable, and honest.
We ought to leave for good about next week.
"Rube Goldberg Machines," we called them. Efficient and modern
pieces of testing apparatus they may be, as their makers claim. But not
once in our entire survey were they used by a mechanic for an honest
diagnosis of our own "trouble;" they were always used to back up a
crooked explanation of wholly imaginary mechanical defects. We felt
them to be, primarily, "merchandising machines," not "essential tools."
** Rely on the New Deal
You'll get a Square Deal'
Telephone Exchange 67000
futt opposite the Post Office
NEW DEAL GARAGE
EXPERT MECHANICS ON ALL MAKES OF CARS
TUNE-UP JOBS A SPECIALTY - STORAGE
Equipped with Modern Motor Testers
New York License
Overhaul, Clean & Adjust Carburetor
Parts & Labor
New Wiring & Distributor Points
Tune Up Motor
State Unemployment Tax (Parts)
THE AMERICAN AUTOMOBILE today is the finest
manufactured product of our nation. Its makers
have put into it astounding values values in re-
liability, sturdiness, and comfort. It gives a mini-
mum of trouble. It is so well made that many
drivers never even have to look under the hood.
Yet, because of this, if something does go wrong,
service stations and garages are able to take as-
tounding values out of it.
Three out of five times our investigating mo-
54 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
torists stopping for repairs at a strange garage
'were gypped. Three out of five garagemen over-
charged, lied, invented unnecessary work, or
charged for work not done, for parts not needed,
for parts not installed.
That is what we found on a five months' survey
that, when finally completed, covered 19,900
miles up and down and back and forth across the
United States, from New England to Florida,
from coast to coast. To get a true and fair sam-
pling of repairmen throughout the country we
stopped at every kind of garage and service sta-
tion dealer agencies, independent service sta-
tions, hotel garages, repair shops. The results of
our sampling allow but one conclusion: that the
automobile servicing and repair business of the
United States does not give its customers a square
Our two investigators submitted their Lincoln
Zephyr coupe to 347 service stations and ga-
rages in all parts of the country. This automobile
had been purchased secondhand for $625, which
we thought the price of an average reader's car.
The machine looked well traveled but was in
as perfect mechanical condition as it is possible
for a man-made machine to be. Before the jour-
ney began, remember, the car was completely
overhauled by a selected mechanic and equipped
with new brakes, valves, rings, pins, oil filter,
fuel pump, carburetor, ignition coils, distributor,
spark plugs, cylinder heads, water hoses, gas line,
and generator. Constantly throughout the inves-
tigation Patric, exceptionally familiar with the
mechanism of cars, rechecked the car's condition,
giving it still more new parts and careful preven-
tive service in a lean-over-backwards effort to
keep the car as nearly as possible in its original
condition. At all times he assured himself that
they were submitting to garagemen a car with
which there was nothing wrong except for that
one small but glaringly obvious defect: the dis-
connected wire which caused the engine to op-
erate on only six of its twelve cylinders.
This wire was deliberately disconnected by the
investigators themselves much as you would
pull the plug out of an electric socket shortly
before they drew up at each of the garages and
service stations tested. It was the sort of simple
maladjustment which places America's millions
of motorists at the mercy of repairmen.
56 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
A minority of repairmen 129 out of 347
spotted the disconnected wire at once, told the
investigators what was wrong, fixed it in a few
seconds, and either asked a reasonable sum or
made no charge at all. But a majority, 63 per
cent, took the investigators for suckers and
treated them accordingly.
The Lincoln Zephyr has twelve cylinders set
in two banks of six each, one right, one left. The
hood opens from the front; just under the point
of the hood are the ignition coils. One feeds the
right bank of cylinders, the other the left bank.
Disconnect one of the wires leading to either coil
and you cut off six cylinders. The car will run on
the other six, but it is a feeble, unhappy, crippled
car. Stepping on the gas is like stepping on a
Here is a maladjustment which stares any me-
chanic in the face and right close to his face
as soon as he lifts the hood. All he has to do is to
replace the dangling wire and tighten the nut
holding it down. If he doesn't see it within a
few minutes, he is utterly incompetent. If he
does see it, but says nothing about it and pretends
to find a more profitable defect he is dishonest.
The investigators' procedure was this: a few
hundred yards from a garage they would stop
the car and disconnect the wire. As a rule Patric
would then disappear, to take his radios and
other properties to other shops, leaving Miss
May, a seemingly defenseless, unmechanical
woman, to drive up to the garage. There she
would say she didn't understand how a car so re-
cently overhauled could go wrong so suddenly
and ask to have it fixed. If the mechanic did not
say he had spotted the trouble immediately she
would go round the corner "f or a bite to eat." On
her return she might find the car ready, pay the
bill always demanding an itemized receipt
and drive away. But often she would find a me-
chanic with a tale of serious trouble requiring
many hours of work.
This strange highway odyssey began in the
East. From Miss May's notes here is the sort of
thing that happened to the investigators in New
CASE 34. Brooklyn, New York. When I came
back the mechanic was still fussing around the
car or appeared to be. I noticed that the wire
58 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
had been replaced, but he did not mention it.
"What did you find wrong?" I asked. "I had
to clean the carburetor." "But this car was just
overhauled, and I'm sure the carburetor was
cleaned." (Actually the carburetor is brand-new
and weVe been buying the best grades of Ethyl
gas.) "What would make it get dirty so soon?"
"Oh, they get that way." And he charged $2.00
for "cleaning" a new carburetor.
CASE 38. New York City. When the mechanic
came back after testing the car around the block
he said, "I have bad news for you. Your clutch
plate is gone. The whole assembly was red hot."
I asked how much that would cost. He said:
"$23.50." I said I didn't have the money with
me; could I drive the car home in that condi-
tion? "Yes, but the farther you drive it the more
harm you'll do." This mechanic did not look at
the clutch; and the clutch since then has done
over 27,000 miles without trouble.
In New York and vicinity only two out of six-
teen garagemen refrained from trying to over-
charge or swindle this woman driver. The bills
and estimates averaged $4.00 for a service which
eighty-one mechanics, elsewhere in the course of
this investigation, casually performed for noth-
ing. New York was bad, but it was only typi-
cal of the shame of the great cities, to which
our investigation gives shocking testimony. In
New York, Washington, Miami, New Orleans,
Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, San Francisco, and
Los Angeles (which includes Hollywood), the
gyps predominated sixty-two to twenty. Small
towns and small garages were much more hon-
est than large towns and elaborate garages.
Places with less than 10,000 inhabitants proved
twice as safe for the motorist as places over 10,-
ooo, which overcharged or deceived in 70 per
cent of the test cases. Villages were even safer.
Here are a few samples of the investigators' big-
CASE 204. Chicago, Illinois. This is a very large,
ultra-modern parking garage in the heart of the
Loop. For customers it has a waiting salon fur-
nished like a theater foyer or a cocktail lounge
with a carpeted floor and modernistic furni-
ture. I was told : "Our mechanics here don't do
60 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
any major repairs. But we'll be glad to send it out
for you." "No, please don't do that," I answered.
"I'll pay for storage now, and if your mechanic
here can't fix the car, please wait until I come
for it in the morning, and I'll take it myself to
your other garage."
I called next morning for the car and found
it had been sent to the other garage, contrary to
my instructions. "But I told them not to take it
there. I said I'd take it there myself if anything
was seriously wrong." "Well, you couldn't run it
as it was," they told me. "You needed a new coil
and a new distributor and the motor needed
tuning badly. Let's see, that'll come to $15.83."
I told them that I would want the old parts and
would come back for the car. I had to return four
times, and it wasn't until next morning that they
had an old coil in a box for me. It wasn't ours
it was at least three years old.
CASE 207. Chicago, Illinois. They say this garage
is unique for the efficient way in which it handles
and parks hundreds of cars. When I returned for
the car the bill was $6.50. "What did they find
wrong?" I asked. "I don't know. I'll call a man
AUTOMOBILES 6 1
who'll tell you." The superintendent came over
and told me, u We had to remove and replace
your distributor, clean and set your points."
"You mean you replaced the distributor that
was causing the trouble?" I said. "May I have
the old one?" "We put the old one back on after
we had cleaned and adjusted it thoroughly," he
told me. "Also, we had to check the right bank
and clean the plugs." Pat looked at the car later.
You could tell the plugs hadn't even been
handled, let alone cleaned, because the bodies of
gnats and insects we'd picked up in the central
Mississippi Valley still clung to them. Just to
make sure, Pat took out the plugs and inspected
them. They hadn't been touched.
(A word about the numbering of the cases : the
investigators numbered all the tests in the order
they were made. In a number of cases the me-
chanic wasn't in, or we were sent to another ga-
rage, or for one reason or another no clear-cut
test was forthcoming. These cases were not in-
cluded in our total of 347. But for ease of check-
ing back and rebutting critics we have retained
the original numbering scheme, which accounts
62 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
for the fact that some test cases have a number
higher than 347.)
CASE 374. San Francisco, California. A big,
swanky city garage. I said, "If you have to send
this work out I don't want to leave the car." "No
ma'am, we do all our work right here," was the
answer. But in the morning the service manager
I had talked to wasn't there; neither was the car
there. In spite of my specific request and their
assurances the car had been sent out. I waited an
hour. Finally the car was returned with this re-
port: "Now you'll hear the bad news. You
needed a new coil." When I asked the price, he
figured: "The coil alone costs $7.50; the labor
is $5.00 for installing the coil, giving your motor
a tune up, cleaning and adjusting the carburetor,
and checking the fuel pump. The bill is $12.73
including the tax. You'll find your car will pull
these hills now." Of course it would. They'd put
the wire back on, and that was all that was
As you can surmise from some of these test
cases of all the kinds of garages, the least satis-
factory we found were the big garages that cater
to hotel guests. Almost always beautiful places
with lots of plate glass, neon signs, uniformed
attendants, and pretty cashiers, they were usu-
ally the places where the repairman's ethics
hit bottom. You never see the mechanic who is
said to have worked on your car. Many tourists
are likely to deal only with the porter at the hotel
door. He takes your car around to the garage,
and during the night someone may or may not
work on it. That man in turn sends in to his office
a work sheet and never sees customer, accountant,
or cashier. There is too wide a gap in responsi-
bility between the man who does the work and
the man who sees the customer. Here's a case in
point we encountered in Sarasota, Florida :
CASE 131. This garage, large and imposing, is in
the hotel district of Sarasota. The night attend-
ant said : "We have no mechanic on duty now.
The dayman will get on it first thing in the morn-
ing." But when I got there in the morning the
day mechanic told me : "The nightman fixed this.
He had to reset the timing." No mention of the
dangling wire, of course. The bill was $2.00.
64 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
Another, involving a garage in the hotel dis-
trict, this time in Topeka, Kansas :
CASE 245. In the morning I returned to find the
place extremely busy, with a large force of men
at work. "What was the trouble with my car?"
I asked. The service manager called the me-
chanic, who said: "I cleaned your points, ad-
justed the carburetor, and in general gave your
motor a thorough tune up. You'll find it O.K.
now." The bill was for $3.40. Not a word about
the disconnected wire. Dust undisturbed on the
motor showed clearly that not one of these jobs
had been done.
The lone encouraging note in our survey
and that was a minor one was the competence,
ability, and honesty of the men who adjusted the
coil wire and told us what the trouble was with-
out making extravagant claims or extravagant
charges. Typical remarks of the honest repair-
men constitute the sharpest possible criticism of
CASE 1 20. Bainbridge, Georgia. The owner of
this small repair shop had apparently already
gone to bed, but he came right down, opened his
shop, got out his tools, and came out to the car.
He found the trouble immediately: "You didn't
have nothin' wrong 'cept this wire. She'll go all
right now. See if she don't." I asked him how
much we owed him. "Mister, I didn't do any-
thing worth chargin' for." "But," I said, "you'd
gone to bed. You had to get up. That's worth
something." "Well, I let myself in for that," he
said. "I'm used to gettin' up. All the service-sta-
tion men in this little town know I'll get up an'
fix people's cars an' I'm handy, too, right here
on the highway. I don't mind." "But how much
do I owe you for your trouble?" "Oh, call it a
CASE 161. New Orleans, Louisiana. This repair
garage is located across the street from New Or-
leans' huge charity hospital. Several young doc-
tors wearing white uniforms were waiting for
their cars. A neatly dressed, intelligent mechanic
was chatting with them as he worked. Having
finished with them, he lifted the hood of my car.
"Oh oh! You're running on only one bank.
It'll be fixed in a minute." "How much is my
bill?" I asked. "Nothing." "You'll never get
66 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
rich charging nothing," I said. "But this thing
is too small to make a charge," the mechanic
CASE 252. Sherman, Texas. This small-city ga-
rage is one square from Main Street. The me-
chanic here examined the motor, tightened the
wire, and said : "You were only getting the bene-
fit of half your motor. A loose connection on the
coil is all that's wrong with it. Try it, and if it
isn't right, come back." His charge was fifty
(Note: In these small places you'll notice that
we do not leave the car so often as we do in cities.
There's a definite reason for this. In a small town
or in the country the habit of the mechanics is
to come right over, look at the engine immedi-
ately, and if we start to go, they usually say : "Just
wait a little till we see what's wrong." In the
cities it's just the opposite. Usually, and always
in the cases of the gyps, they encourage us to
leave the car, and often don't even look at it until
CASE 233. Ottawa, Iowa. A large Chevrolet
dealer serving a farming community. "Huhl"
said the night manager, "I've never seen that be-
fore. Lady, I was afraid you'd have to stay over
until morning, but you won't. You had a coil
wire off." He charged me twenty-five cents.
CASE 155. Pickens, Mississippi. I saw a garage
combined with an old blacksmith shop in a side-
road village some distance from the main north-
south highway through Mississippi. The black-
smith shop was still there, in the rear, but the
front of the place had been fixed a little neatly,
with cheap new lumber so there was a canopy
over the gas pump and a little office-salesroom.
Back in the shop I could see a forge, anvil, weld-
ing torch, and a workbench. An old blacksmith
was at work on the forge ; a lanky mechanic stood
at the bench. The mechanic got a light, looked at
the motor, saw the loose wire, and put it back-
all in about a minute. "How much?" I asked.
"Ain't done nothin' Ah can charge you for, Mis-
ter." I wanted to give him some business, so I
said : "Maybe I ought to have my transmission
and crankcase changed. Look at 'em, will you?"
A colored boy did. He stuck out a black paw on
which transmission lubricant had run. The me-
68 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
chanic touched the paw, rubbed some between
his fingers. "This's got pretty good body to it,
Mister. I wouldn't change it yet. How's she for
full down there?" Said the colored boy from
underneath: "She's pretty full." But we did
change the oil, as we often do.
Patric had a dictaphone installed with a trans-
former to step up the current of the automobile
battery to the dictaphone's necessary thirty-two
Lioy May liked to drive. On long, lonely
stretches of road, or during heavy rainstorms, or
late at night, Patric would hold his dictaphone
cradled on his knees and talk to Riis, as the mar-
velous machine which is an automobile provided
the power to record in wax the adventures of the
Riis, in his New York office, would park his
feet on the desk, put earphones over his head, and
listen to the adventures of his two colleagues who
called themselves "your stooges."
Here is some of the dictaphone comment:
Lioy May is characteristically careful about
slowing up for curves ... I can see rough spots
in the road ahead. ... So this dictaphone works
out okay. . . .
We are driving toward Charleston. . . . It's
raining very hard . . . road is narrow but
smooth . . . Lioy does a good job of driving.
. . . It's kind of fun to think about . . . sitting
here in a warm, smoothly running auto, rolling
through the Carolinas toward the sea, turning
out occasionally for an old Negro plodding
homeward in the rain . . . talking, literally
talking, to you up there in New York.
Teachers Convention at Charleston . . . ho-
tels all filled. ... I pulled up in front of dis-
reputable-looking cabin . . . sent Lioy on
ahead. . . . Lioy said : "I can take anything you
can, John Patric!" I took cabin, paying about
twice as much as it was worth when it was new.
. . . Old stove in there, wired together. . . .
Only thing I could get for breakfast was soda
pop and peanuts. . . .
On way back from Key West. ... By daylight
Saturday the trip was far too interesting to talk
to you . . . alligator on highway . . . had a
bowl of conch chowder . . . lime meringue pie
at another place. . . . You can see nothing but
70 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
ocean on either side, a ribbon of concrete ahead.
Nothing else will be new for me . . . I've seen
all other sections of country. An orchid tree in
full bloom here. . . . Too many visitors and
noisy night clubs at Key West for place to be
languorous and restful.
Tonight we are driving across southern Ala-
bama. Lioy managed ten auto checks in one day
in Miami. . . . Started early and worked late.
. . . All the more remarkable because many
made extravagant estimates. . . . She told many
she was going back to hotel for the money after
getting them to write out estimates.
If the trade ever got wind of what we are do-
ing they could wire ahead our license number.
For a while in Miami we were rather fright-
ened. Lioy had been leaving the car, going for a
walk, driving it away, stopping, disconnecting
the wire, then driving on to another garage.
Shortly before noon she noticed a prowler car
following her and parking outside garage she
went in. When she decided she had had enough
of this, the prowler car stopped her, and the po-
lice wanted to know what it was all about. Of
course she couldn't tell them. They were looking
for a Zephyr that had been stolen in Miami.
They finally let her go but kept following her.
I thought if we were taken to police head-
quarters it might make good copy. I told her to
tell the police nothing unless they considered us
important enough to take before the chief. ... I
would then ask him about their local business
ethics. I didn't get that chance. Prowler car con-
tinued to keep an eye on Miss May. But she
wasn't bothered again.
One thing I liked about Florida was the num-
ber of benches they have in parks and around
the town. I type my reports on the park bench.
First I plant radio and watches with repairmen;
then I leave one typewriter to be repaired. The
biggest problem on this job is what to do with
waiting time. It all can be used here in Florida.
As we go through little towns on the road I
have Lioy drop me on one side of the town with
the typewriter, then I lift the hood and discon-
nect the wire, and she drives into town alone, so
as not to let the garagemen see a man is with her.
I then walk through the town, stopping at the
jeweler if there is one, and continue on down the
highway on the other side until I come to a low
72 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
stone wall or a high curbstone, or a fallen palm
tree or something, whereupon I sit, hold the type-
writer on my knees, and write reports. Literally
thousands of motorists have seen this peculiar
fellow miles from nowhere, apparently, sitting
beside the road typing furiously. I am sure they
must at times be extremely puzzled. Back in the
office they think this is "a lovely trip."
And from the long road through New Mexico
I pointed out to Lioy May the restored Palace
of the Governors of New Mexico. In one of those
rooms General Lew Wallace, then territorial
governor of New Mexico, wrote most of his
book, Ben-Hur. There certainly has been a
change in American journalism since those old
days, Bill. Lew Wallace wrote one of the most
successful books that has ever been published
about the Holy Land, and without ever having
been there to get his background straight. And
yet he was amazingly correct. Here we are, your
two stooges, costing the Reader's Digest thou-
sands of dollars, trying to hit every kind of repair
shop in every state in the Union just to be sure
that a short magazine story is absolutely right.
And when we're done, how many garagemen are
going to say: "It's all a fake"? How many are
going to think you invented it? How many are
going to say we went out deliberately looking for
gyps? How often are we going to be accused of
simply trying to be sensational? If our critics-to-
come could only be with us for a few days on this
investigation and see what a terrific job in psy-
chological research this survey really is!
But to go back to the honest repairmen, we
were refreshed by their friendly candor.
CASE 86. Pine Castle, Florida. Driving through
this sleepy town, I saw a garage with a man and a
boy busy inside. The two-hundred-pound me-
chanic spotted the trouble in an instant; in that
instant his eyes had swept over the motor from
one end to the other. The fellow put the wire
back on and tightened both nuts with the re-
mark: "The other'n'd been off afore you-all got
down the road much of a piece; then you
wouldn't 'a' had no motor aye-tall. Y'had half a
motor." I said : "Well, that's a relief. How much
74 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
do I owe you?" "You don't owe me nuthin'. I
don't b'lieve in charging a man a quarter every
time I lift his hood, like some o' these fellahs do.
Up in Georgia I built up a good business by not
doin' that, an' I've been figurin' I'd do the same
here. Just been here two weeks." "Well," I told
him, "you ought to have some cigars, anyway."
I fished out a quarter and handed it to him. "No,
I don't want your money I thought maybe you
just had a couple o' cigars." "Get them with this
quarter, but please give me a little memo of it,"
I said, "partly because I keep an account of what
I spend, partly because I want to remember
you." "M'wife'll give y'one f'm th'other garage
I had. Mama, give this man a receipt for a
Thus, quickly and honestly, did many repair-
men solve the simple problem which we placed
before them. Eighty-one of them made no charge
at all. Others made trifling charges, probably on
the basis this honest repairman in Portland, Ore-
gon, used: "Well, it costs something to lift a
hood ; the electric current on our trouble light is
worth something; wear and tear on a screw-
driver is something. Suppose we say four bits?"
With 129 repairmen giving us such fair, honest
service as that described above, is there anything
that can be said for the 63 per cent of all the re-
pairmen we visited who were guilty of petty
lying, thieving, and swindling?
For a competent and honest mechanic only one
diagnosis of the Lincoln Zephyr's trouble was
possible : "Disconnected coil wire." But the in-
vestigators received seventy-four different ex-
planations of what was wrong. Remember this:
when that car pulled into a garage there was not
the least thing in the world wrong with it except
that one dangling end of a wire.
Here, in small type, is a list of some of the
phony explanations we received. Could the men
who told us these lies be trusted to service any
car? Could they be trusted to grease an automo-
bile without missing a few important lubrication
points each time? Could they be trusted even to
inflate tires correctly unless the customer were
watching? Could they be believed when they
recommended "ways to add years of life to your
car"? Could you be sure they had left a crank-
case really clean after an overhaul job? Could
76 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
you be sure they had removed all the carbon?
Would you be willing to swear you had actually
needed those new valves just because they'd
said they installed them? Would their advice be
sound as to when to install new spark plugs? Do
you think men with such habits of falsehood
could be trusted to keep your interests i.e., top
performance of your automobile at lowest main-
tenance costs uppermost in their minds?
Some of these were duplicated a dozen times :
Exchange distributor; clean carburetor; new
Clean carburetor; replace several wires.
Points not hitting; motor required tuning; plugs
Some wires off.
Timing late ; carburetor bad.
Locate miss ; solder coil connection.
Blocked gas line.
Replace diaphragm in fuel pump.
Coil wires broken.
Loose wires under dash.
Two new condensers.
Wire loose on coil ; wire loose on condenser.
Clean right bank jet.
New coil; new distributor; set points; clean
plugs ; clean right bank jet.
Replace distributor plate and cone.
Clean carbon from motor.
Four wires off.
Dirty rotor and commutator.
Labor on : vacuum, plugs, coil, distributor, igni-
Set to pick up.
Clogged carburetor; defective wire.
Set timing; adjust coil.
High-speed jets clogged.
Carburetor set wrong for high altitude.
Install new distributor points.
One half carburetor clogged.
Bad fuel pump and carburetor; several loose
Wiring u all loose."
Overhaul carburetor and distributor.
Adjust float level.
Clean main motor jets.
Clean and adjust points.
78 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
Repair coil and distributor.
Remove obstruction from gas line.
Condenser bracket loose.
Points all loose and jumbled up.
Adjust breaker points.
Repair distributor wires.
Pep up motor and adjust carburetor.
Repair ignition and clean carburetor.
Piece of paper got into distributor, obstructing
Carburetor set to make car run on six.
Solder broken wire.
Clean carburetor and install new condenser.
Change spark-plug gaps from .025 to .045.
Clean points; adjust carburetor; tune motor.
Make right bank of cylinders fire.
Set octane selector.
Plugs scorched ; points burned.
Repair and install condenser coil.
Repair right distributor, wires, plugs.
Entire ignition system loose.
Go all over car and tighten it.
Generator ready to fall off.
Set carburetor to burn Mexican gas ; free sticky
New fuel pump.
Water and dirt in coil.
Distributor out of time.
Coil wire burned in half.
Fasten down coil and condensers.
Splice coil wire ; clean plugs and carburetor,
Air leaking into carburetor.
Reset timing and carburetor.
Clean gas line and jets.
Gas stream and fuel bowl dirty.
Battery bad ; need new one.
Lock distributor tightly.
Adjust distributor and carburetor.
Entire ignition system gone bad.
Overhaul clutch; install new parts.
Complete distributor job.
8o REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
Timing late ; points not set.
Coil wire broken ; plugs fouled.
Clutch assembly burned up ; it was red hot.
Coil post broken off.
Make carburetor "alalices."
Trouble in firing system.
Repair sticky valves, carburetor, fuel pump,
Points corroded; jets clogged.
Grind valves ; clean carburetor.
Spark plugs clogged.
Some of those diagnoses are lies designed to
justify $25 charges; some are thought up to
justify charges that might have been quite reason-
able if accompanied by a truthful explanation;
some, such as this which might have been added :
"Labor and trace and replace distributor coil
lead wire on Zephyr motor" are simply impres-
sively phrased versions of the truth. No man who
made a fair charge for replacing the coil wire
ever dressed it up like that.
But the point is this: if servicemen lie like
that, when can they be trusted? Our critics say
AUTOMOBILES 8 1
that some of these men who lied for small sums
a few told elaborate stories for as little as fifty
cents are not dishonest, only weak. Well, would
they turn "strong" enough to tell the customer
the truth about his car if $20 were involved? Or
$100? Or would they, on the contrary, keep the
pattern of falsehood which is so often encoun-
tered when sums of hundreds of dollars are in-
volved in a used-car deal?
Consider this sample in Dallas, Texas :
CASE 250. A beautifully lithographed folder
describes this place in superlatives and avers that
"You pay only standard rates." I left the car and
went away. When I returned a girl in the glassed-
in cashier's box called the mechanic down from
the third floor to explain the bill for $3.75. The
mechanic said : "Your plugs were scorched and
the points were burned." (Patric's note: what a
silly thing to tell us! All plugs "scorch" some-
what whenever they fire, and all points arc and
burn whenever they break. Of course our plugs,
like all plugs, were scorched! But that evening
I took out a couple of plugs and examined them.
They were not cleaned at this garage.) The me-
82 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
chanic concluded : "Your distributor needed a
(Patricks note : Just a week ago we watched, in
Milwaukee, a factory exchange distributor taken
from a factory carton and placed in our motor.
But I looked at the distributor after this Dallas
case. It had not even been wiped free of the dust
we had sprinkled on it. Had it been removed for
overhauling, it would not have stayed dusty.)
This case illustrates an automobile credo of
mine : the more emphasis there is on merchandis-
ing, the less there is on giving real value. Look at
that beautiful, costly folder! Then look at our
bill! Not a word about the wire! Just stick the
wire back on, soak us $3.75, make a dumb gen-
eralization about spark plugs, lie about the dis-
tributor, and figure that the beautiful appearance
of this garage will allay all suspicion and awe
CASE 1 60. New Orleans, Louisiana. These fel-
lows call themselves "carburetor and ignition
specialists." Two men looked at our motor. One
of them put the wire back on, tested the motor by
running it just enough to be sure that that was all
the trouble then took the wire off again. "Your
ignition has gone bad," he told me, "and the
labor will be $4.50 plus materials."
Dictaphone note from Patric :
I stopped for a visit with my friend, Harold
Bell Wright, the novelist. Usually we have been
very careful not to divulge what we are doing,
but I told him something about our trip. He was
tremendously interested because the theme of his
new novel is based upon the same thing: the
breakdown of old-fashioned principles among
the people of the United States. "You and Riis
have more than a story about crooked repair-
men," he told me. "You have a story of the break-
down of those virtues which helped make Amer-
ica great. I hope you don't stop but go further to
the logical conclusions. A terrific story, one of
the most important of our time."
Over and over again, at the sight of that dis-
connected wire, garagemen were suddenly smit-
ten with blindness and greed. In Florida the
honest repairmen were outnumbered two to one.
Two thirds of those tested overcharged or in-
84 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
dulged in various forms of skulduggery. Florida
boasted of a $175,000,000 "tourist crop" last
winter. The people who drove there must have
contributed plenty to that total.
The investigators swung over through New
Orleans then sampled the Great Lakes and the
farm states and headed southwest for New Mex-
ico, Arizona, and the coast. Sometimes the test
cases went beyond the depth of casual gyppery,
they were so exasperatingly barefaced.
CASE 178. Memphis, Tennessee. A large gen-
eral repair garage. There were six mechanics at
work here. One of them, large and husky, came
over, lifted the hood, took one look at the coil
wire, walked over to his bench, got a milk bottle
full of something, and "tested" the fuel pump.
While he was doing this a colored boy sauntered
by. He approached the car, leaned against the
front fender, and saw the disconnected coil wire.
"See dis, boss?" he asked, pointing to the loose
wire. The boss nodded, answering: "Yes, the
fuel pump needs repairing," and charged $2.25
for it. There was nothing wrong with the fuel
CASE 312. Albuquerque, New Mexico. The me-
chanic lifted the hood, spotted the loose wire at
once, and replaced it instantly with his fingers.
Then he got out his tools and began to remove
the carburetor. "It's clogged up. You're getting
only half power." "What have you done so far?"
I asked (the "I" is Patric in this case). "Noth-
ing." "Well, then, don't do anything. I've
changed my mind about wanting the car fixed."
Then the fellow reached for the wire to pull it
off again. "Let those wires alone," I said, and
put down the hood myself.
Then I asked the mechanic : "Why didn't you
tell me about this wire being off? Why do you
pull such tricks?" "Well," answered the me-
chanic, trying to laugh it off, "we've got to pay
our overhead somehow." "But why steal money
from people who trust you because you have such
a pleasing, convincing way about you?" I asked
him. Then he queried : "Did you know that wire
was off when you came in?" "What do you
think?" "Well, I'd like to know just why you did
that." I told him: "Just to see whether or not
you'd tell the truth to a couple of tourists a
couple of strangers from the East who come out
86 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
here to see your Western country and I found
out!" At this point the mechanic became almost
raving mad. "Why, you you you! I ought to
. . . Why, you . . . Get the hell out of here ! I
don't want the likes of you in my place. Get out
of here and get out fast!" I got out, but slowly.
By one experience we had in Las Vegas, Ne-
vada, we found that occasionally gyp mechanics
will get their signals crossed.
CASE 341. When I called for the car one me-
chanic said : "You had a wire off." I asked what
the charge would be. "Oh, that oughtn't to be
more than fifty cents at the most for a job like
that," he told me. So I paid him the fifty cents.
But when we walked over to the car there was a
bill on the windshield : "Labor, $1.50." The fifty-
cent mechanic was a little flustered when another
mechanic came over and got the bill off the
wiper. "I told this lady the bill was fifty cents
for replacing a wire. What's this $1.50 here for?"
Said the second mechanic : "We charge $1.00 for
washing. You asked to have the car washed,
didn't you?" (It had not been washed.) "No," I
said. "Then where'd I get that idea?" said the
fast-thinking second mechanic. This, I found
out, was what had happened : The first mechanic
the fifty-cent one had just come to work here
in Las Vegas. He'd been working in a garage in
a smaller town. He knew what the trouble had
been but didn't know about the bill placed under
the windshield. He'd set a fifty-cent price from
force of habit and probably got a good lecture
from the second mechanic after I had left.
When the first repairman article was pub-
lished garagemen throughout the country set up
a rousing cry of "It's the other fellow." Our
original story did not give any breakdown of
how many of each kind of garage we visited, be-
cause we attempted to visit garages as any tourist
in trouble would, at random, in just about the
ratio they existed throughout the nation. But
the dealer service stations and garages immedi-
ately claimed that, since they hadn't been men-
tioned by name, we surely couldn't be talking
about them. Many dealers even whipped up ad-
vertisements around our failure to name them as
the guilty ones: "It's the independent stations
they mean." But we were not making a point
88 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
about any one type of service station or garage
we were talking about them all, the whole auto-
mobile repair industry of the United States.
Here is the actual breakdown : Of the 347 total
test cases, 88 involved agencies or dealer service
stations; 57 per cent of these were dishonest.
Two hundred and fifty-nine tests involved inde-
pendents; 65 per cent of these were gyps. The
dealer garages have a slightly better relative per-
centage, yes, but they can hardly be termed lily-
The performance of the official A.A.A. ga-
rages, when confronted with our test, was dis-
heartening. Though these repairmen are sup-
posedly carefully inspected and checked up on
before they are permitted to join the A.A.A.'s
far-flung organization of some 12,000 member
garages, our sampling of their service stations
showed that in twenty-six tests their percentage
of honesty was no better than the average we
Whether a service station is the authorized
dealer for a particular manufacturer, whether it
is an independent garage, or whether it has been
approved by a motorists' organization seems to
make but little difference in the degree of honesty
or otherwise with which it treats its custom-
ers. The following cases uncover the vein of gyp-
pery which is to be found in every phase of the
repair industry, often in greater proportion than
the square dealing which so many citizens have
too long taken for granted :
CASE 162. New Orleans, Louisiana. A large
dealer garage that occupies a city block. An ath-
letic, good-looking mechanic carefully put a
cover on the seat to protect it then tested the car.
When he had finished he said to the service man-
ager: "Her clutch is gone." "Are you sure?" I
asked. "Yes, that's what it is all right." Here the
service manager chimed in: "Well, the labor for
overhauling a clutch is $12, plus whatever parts
are required. The parts will be extra." Of course
there was nothing wrong with the clutch.
CASE 109. Miami, Florida. I sat in the car, as
I often did, and watched the mechanic surrepti-
tiously through the crack between the hood and
the cowl. This man saw the loose wire, connected
it lightly, came back to where I was sitting, and
90 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
started the motor. I could tell by the sound that
it was hitting again on twelve cylinders, and of
course so could he. But he took the wire off again.
"Your distributor is gone," he diagnosed. "The
more you drive the car the more harm you'll do.
I'll call the Ford garage and find out how much
a new one costs." He returned shortly to tell me
that an exchange on the distributor would be
$2.75 with a labor charge of a dollar more.
CASE 256. San Antonio, Texas. A downtown
garage with two wreckers and two badly demol-
ished automobiles standing out in front for ad-
vertising purposes. I felt as if I were driving
Lorelei into a newly furnished, ultramodern
kitchen for all the motor analyzing gadgets were
finished in white baked enamel very fancy in-
deed. The manager looked at Lorelei's motor
while a delivery boy from the Ford garage
who'd brought some parts was standing by,
watching him. The manager had a screw driver
in his hand, and, though hesitating, seemed about
to fix the coil wire we had disconnected. Just
then the boy who had been observing him went
up the ramp with a fender he was delivering.
When he had gone, the manager said : "There is
something wrong with the right distributor.
(Patric's note: there's only one distributor
it's in the middle.)
u Can you leave this car and come back?"
When I returned there was a bill on the car for
$2.50. No details. "What was wrong?" I asked.
"Well, we repaired the motor, checked all your
wires and all your spark plugs." He wrote it out
on the receipt that I requested, making one more
elaborate itemization to cover up a simple job.
He didn't touch the plugs. No one, in all the
cases with spark-plug trouble as a part of the
diagnosis, did touch the plugs.
No districts were found quite as wedded to
crooked dealing as New York and Miami ex-
cept Hollywood. In Hollywood not one garage
in five was above reproach. Here are two of the
more flagrant cases our investigators met with in
the cinema city :
CASE 357. Hollywood, California. A very large
and heavily staffed place. It takes up more than
a city block. It has individual departments for
92 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
various types of work. I pulled into the park-
ing area. A well-mannered service manager
asked what he could do for me. I told him my
trouble the usual story which we do not vary.
The fellow tried the car and said: "You have
electrical trouble, not engine trouble." Then they
drove the car over to a place next to the battery
department and put a motor analyzer on it. The
service manager looked directly at the coil wire
and said : "It looks to me as if your distributor
points are gone burnt. That is a two-hour job."
u How much would it cost?" I asked. "About
$4.50." "Oh dear!" The fellow continued to play
around the engine with his analyzer. "Perhaps
you'll only need an adjustment." Then he said :
"You are hitting on one side of the motor; I
doubt if the coil is gone. The Lincoln Zephyr has
one of the best electrical systems there is, and I've
never heard of a coil burning out. But there's
something wrong with the other side of your
motor too. It must be your battery that is short-
ing. Yes, it's your battery that's shorting the dis-
tributor. Well, the only thing for you to do is to
buy a first-class battery that won't do that. We
have one for $24.95 tnat w ^ correct your
trouble. What you need is a glass-insulated bat-
tery that is guaranteed for four years."
(Patricks note: This, of course, is pure, un-
adulterated hooey about any battery shorting any
distributor. But by being accurate about other
things he said, the man showed that he knew one
trick of the garageman to be meticulous about
everything he says except where he is going to
shove in the pitchfork. The two months' old bat-
tery weVe been using has been giving us a hot
spark, a quick start, and a snappy engine.)
At this point I asked the service manager:
"Are you sure the battery is what I need? I've
got some traveling across the hills I've got to do."
He said: "You mustn't use the car the way
it is. Yes, I think I can get by all right without
installing new points." Then he made his an-
alyzer talk again and assured me that the $25
battery would end all my troubles.
Just then I tried to start the car, and it
wouldn't start at all. The hood was down, and I
couldn't see whether or not the other coil wire
had been removed, but I sensed that was what
had happened. I didn't want to lift the hood and
expose the trick. So I said: "Haven't you got a
94 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
cheaper battery?" "You don't want a cheaper
battery you want one you can depend on." But
I finally persuaded him to bring out a $12.95
battery which was installed. I had to get the car
As they lifted the hood to install the new bat-
tery I gave the motor a quick glance. Sure
enough, the other coil wire had been removed,
and both were off now. While I was making sure
that we got our own battery back the mechanic,
quick as a wink, went to the coil on our car and
slipped both wires back on with his fingers. Then
he started Lorelei's motor and said: "You re-
member how it sounded before? Some difference
(Patric's note : Later we had our "old" battery
tested. This fellow told us : "Why, this battery is
hot! There's not a thing wrong with this battery.
It couldn't have made a better charge. I'd take
it back to that garage and get my money back
right away if I were you.")
CASE 362. Hollywood, California. This place
is admittedly one of the country's biggest service
stations. The service manager called the me-
chanic, saying: c This man specializes on Fords
and Zephyrs." The mechanic looked at the en-
gine, saw the wire off, then quickly looked away.
Then he said: "Lady, your manifold is gone.
One half of your motor isn't running. There's a
hole burned through your manifold. To weld it
would be $4.50 and another $4.50 for labor. If
it's too far gone we can't weld it." Then the man-
ager of the "mechanical department" said: "I
wouldn't advise welding. This job will take a
new manifold." He estimated the needed work
at $24.60. I asked the service manager to show
me where the hole was burned. "Down inside
hard for you to see you wouldn't want to get all
dirty. But here" he went to a shelf of defunct
parts, selected a manifold, and said "see this
hole here? Yours is burned the same place."
As the investigators headed across country
they found several cases where gross incompe-
tence was liberally added to just plain gyppery.
Here are two samples:
CASE 167. Turrell, Arkansas. Here the village
mechanic was utterly stupid. The search for the
96 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
trouble in my motor consisted of standing beside
the car, with his hand on the carburetor, alter-
nately racing and slowing down the motor. He
did this about half-a-dozen times. Then a pass-
er-by came along, looked at the motor, and said :
"There's a wire off here would that make any
difference?" The mechanic tightened the wire
then went back and raced the motor some more.
"Doesn't make much," he said.
And one case, in Seattle, Washington, the last
one of our survey, revealed a degree of careless-
ness that was almost incredible. This mechanic
One of the first things he did was to shut off
the gas line by turning the valve. Then, appar-
ently in order to sell some cheap gas, he said I
was out of gas. I said : "But the gauge shows I've
plenty." He thought the gauge must be broken
and put in the gas. Then the car wouldn't run at
all. To show me that "he knew what he was talk-
ing about," he poured gas into the top of the
carburetor, having taken off the air cleaner and
the engine would, of course, run for a moment or
two. Then he said : "I guess you need a fuel
pump," and started taking off everything he
could remove from the top of the motor and
doing it with incredible carelessness.
I was afraid that after he was through the car
wouldn't run at all, so I "just happened to notice"
the loose wire. "Should that wire be off?" I asked
innocently. "Doesn't matter," said he, replacing
it. Then he continued to remove pipe lines. "You
need a fuel pump all right," and he said he'd
need a little time to get one.
I went to a bum restaurant near by for a ham-
burger and coffee, and when I came back he was
waiting for me before putting back our own fuel
pump, which he had wiped clean. He didn't
seem to care how he worked as he put the gas line
back on. When he had everything reassembled
and thought I wasn't looking, he turned on the
gas valve again. Of course the engine would run,
but gas spouted out of a couple of connections.
He tied string around them. I paid the bill,
which came to $3.38 exclusive of the gas, and
drove carefully toward the hotel. On the way I
stopped and lifted the hood gasoline was
streaming out of the defective connection onto
the motor. I parked the car and got Patric. It
98 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
was too late to get anything fixed tonight. Patric
took a cake of hotel soap, soaked it in hot water
until it got soft then took it to the car. He piled it
around the connection like putty, and that
stopped the leak. We'll have to have the sabotage
remedied tomorrow, and not at that garage!
One repairman, though unquestionably in-
competent, treated our investigators honestly:
CASE 94. Delray Beach, Florida. The young me-
chanic in a big tire company's service station
looked like a college boy just here for the winter.
He looked under the hood but apparently saw
nothing wrong there, so he jacked up the car and
turned the wheels by hand to see "if the wheels
are dragging." But he decided it wasn't that.
"Lady, I'll have to drive this car to see what the
trouble really is." So he drove the car down the
highway. Lorelei will go fairly fast on six, and
the fellow gave the motor all the gas it would
take. "I guess it's the clutch," the fellow said,
starting back. "It must be the clutch." Not want-
ing him to tear the clutch down with Patric sit-
ting on a park bench typing reports, I said : "No,
I don't think it's the clutch. Because once when a
clutch went bad on me it didn't act this way. It
gave out gradually and this went bad all at
The fellow got back to his place and after
looking again at the motor and not seeing the
loose wire that every little side-road mechanic
had found at once, so far, he decided he'd "have
to take off the carburetor." That, it seemed to me,
was enough of a survey. I asked : "Isn't this wire
supposed to be connected to something?" The
fellow actually appeared to be dumfounded. I
think he was. I don't think he knew anything at
all about automobiles. He wouldn't take any
money from me for his trouble and he appeared
abashed not to have noticed the wire.
And one mechanic, at least, combined an air
of frivolity with his gyppery:
CASE 59. Durham, North Carolina. The me-
chanic tried the car out after he had heard my
usual story and said : "You certainly haven't any
power in that motor." I stayed not far away
there was no place handy to go and I observed
that the mechanic found the trouble right away.
But then he asked me to go for another road test.
100 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
He drove the car about ten miles, most of the
time as fast as the car and the road would permit
around 70 m.p.h. I begged him to go slower.
He responded: "What's the matter, gun-shy?"
Then he went on : "What are you doing tonight?
You're staying in Durham, aren't you?" I said I
was married, and, to keep out of trouble, told
him my husband was in Durham. "Couldn't you
ditch your husband for a few hours?" he wanted
to know. Finally we got back to the garage after
one of the wildest rides I ever had. He said :
"Just a distributor out of adjustment. I adjusted
it all up for you. It'll be a dollar."
Early in our survey we found that repairmen
were very touchy on the matter of giving us back
our old parts usually because they hadn't put
in any new ones. One of our ten points of advice
to motorists is : "Ask in advance for the return
of any parts replaced. You will be less likely to
be given something rescued from the scrap pile."
We discovered this principle through the painful
process of personal experience. Time after time,
when we asked for the return of parts mechanics
said they had replaced, we were met with eva-
sion, deceit, and all manner of strange gyrations.
A man in Raleigh, North Carolina, whose bill
was $5.00 for parts and labor, said, "By 'parts' in
this case we mean a gallon of special chemical
we ran through your engine to free up the valves.
You don't want the empty can, surely?"
CASE 55. Norfolk, Virginia. This garage oc-
cupies an entire block. The mechanic who waited
on me found the trouble at once I could see his
hands through the crack behind the raised hood.
But before I knew it he had removed one of the
condensers. I wondered what else he would take
off and got out and asked him how long it would
take to fix the car. "I'm sending the boy for a new
condenser. He'll be back here in about ten min-
utes." The fellow dallied around with the motor
a little, giving the illusion of doing something
to it, and finally put my old condenser back on
it's in first-class condition, of course, being
brand-new. The mechanic had talked with a boy,
as if he had sent the boy for parts. I asked for the
old condenser when I asked for the bill. He dis-
appeared and returned with a miserable wreck
of a condenser. It was apparently the only one
102 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
he could find in the trash can. It had a break in
it; it hadn't even been wiped off; it looked like a
condenser from an early model Ford. I asked for
a receipt and had an awful time getting it. He
tried to give me one on a plain piece of paper,
but I finally got him to make one out on the
garage billhead for $1.85. We shipped the con-
denser via fast mail to Bill in New York to add
to what we call the Riis Museum.
CASE 290. Laredo, Texas. This garage is located
right on the bank of the Rio Grande, on the
road that leads into Mexico across the Inter-
national Bridge. When I returned for the car the
mechanic told me: "You needed a new fuel
pump. I've just put one on." "That's funny," I
said. "Not many weeks ago the car was gone over
thoroughly; they installed a new fuel pump."
The mechanic said : "No, they didn't."
(Patric's note : Yes, they did! I saw it come out
of its factory carton and Conf alone said: "It's a
shame to put on a new one when your old one is
The mechanic figured out the bill ; it would be
$4.50. I told him I'd like the old pump, maybe
I could get a refund. He shouted: "Get that
pump that old fuel pump the lady wants it."
The mechanic brought a pump, and I had him
wrap it up. The pump he gave us had never been
on Lorelei. Among other things its innards were
rusty; ours, being new, had no time to rust. We
shipped it to Bill for the museum.
CASE no. Miami, Florida. A huge place, with
this slogan on its billhead : "You Must Be
Pleased." Three men looked under my hood, and
all of them must have seen the trouble at once.
One said: "Lady, can you leave this car for a
while?" I asked him how long it would take.
"Oh, an hour or so." I left the car. When I re-
turned a smooth-talking man said apologeti-
cally: "We had to install a new condenser. Yours
was burnt out. And oh yes, we cleaned your
points and checked your distributor. I don't think
you'll have any further trouble." When I got the
bill I asked for the old condenser. "Sure, you can
have it if I can find it. But you know they just
give those things a toss and throw them away."
He looked on the workbenches and in the scrap
can and then said : "If you'll come back in the
104 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
morning we'll give it to you. The mechanic has
gone home, and I don't know what he did with
it." The bill was $2.50 for labor and sixty-five
cents for the forty-cent condenser the garage did
CASE 173. New Orleans, Louisiana. A big ga-
rage run in connection with a hotel. There was a
bill for $2.00 when we came to get the car, but
nothing on the bill to show what had been fixed.
No one on the first floor knew what had been
done to the car. Finally they located the me-
chanic upstairs, who said: "I had to adjust the
carburetor, set your points, and I had to solder a
new clip on the coil wire." Seizing upon this
tangible trifle, I asked the mechanic if he would
come downstairs and show me the new clip (it
was the same one that had been on the car when
I took off the wire). "Where was the clip you
had to put on?" I asked him. "Here" he
pointed to the clip we'd unfastened. I took the
wires off and said : "Why, those clips are both
alike; where's the one you took off?" "Upstairs
in the junk, I guess," answered the mechanic.
"Well, let's go find it. I came to this garage be-
cause I'm a member of the New York Auto
Club, and I want to see that old clip. I didn't sell
it to you."
The boy went over to one of those endless
chain-elevator contraptions and got aboard. I
started to follow. He said : "You'll have to go up
the ramp. Customers aren't allowed on this ele-
vator." I gathered that he was trying to get up-
stairs ahead of me and set the stage how, I don't
know. So I said : "Then why are you taking the
elevator? Please come with me all I want is
that old clip you said you took off." Then the
mechanic got panicky and said : "Well, if you
feel that way I I I just won't make any
charge." We went down again, and I told the
manager that the mechanic had said I could have
my money back. "That doesn't make a damn to
me," the service manager said, his suave manner
gone. "We set your plugs " "And put on a
new clip that didn't go on at all," I interjected.
"All right," he said, "we'll knock off a quarter
for the clip." As the manager was making out an
itemized receipt he said to the mechanic with
mock gravity: "Well, if we've got to go to jail
for this we may as well go."
106 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
CASE 306. Santa Fe, New Mexico. Had we been
the ordinary tourists we are supposed to be,
we would have observed, when we checked in at
the big hotel here, some of these cards by the
desk in the lobby and under the -glass on the
dressers in our rooms: "NOTICE: We sincerely
regret to inform you that a city ordinance pro-
hibits the parking of automobiles on the streets
after 2 A.M." Such ordinances, common even in
small towns, are called "the garageman's law."
So we should have gone down to the car and,
although this was quite unnecessary on this balmy
evening in this well-lighted, well-policed,
usually crime-free town, parked it in the nearest
storage garage. So that is just what we did.
"We had to replace the distributor plate and
a distributor cone," I was told in the morning. I
asked for the old ones. "Oh, they were thrown
out," replied the attendant without hesitation,
"and the garbage has already been gathered up
And to conclude the samples of legerdemain
that involved the return of "our old parts" the
following case indicates how the unethical stand-
ards of the repairmen became even bolder than
average when they were dealing with women
CASE 308. Roswell, New Mexico. By this time
the Zephyr has become very muddy and again
looks as if we've been on a long cross-country
jaunt, from all the detours we've encountered
because of the rainiest spring in some twenty
years. I pulled into this garage, situated next to
a hotel, paid the storage charge in advance, and
left it with the usual story. In the morning my
bill was $3.06. "What was the trouble?" I asked
innocently. One of the well-dressed owners in the
office said : "We had to install a new set of dis-
tributor points. " I asked them for an itemized
bill, got it, then for "the old parts you took out."
The owner turned to a well-dressed mechanic
and said : "The lady would like the old parts you
took out of her car. She wants to take them back
to New York with her." So the mechanic handed
me "my old parts" they were a couple of little
gadgets I'd never seen before. I took them to
Patric, who was writing up cases. He said :
"Why, these are carburetor parts."
I08 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
We took them to a parts store to have them
identified. Here we were told: "These are an
economizer valve and an inlet seat looks as if
they were out of a Packard no. There was a
Chandler carburetor that used parts like this.
But they aren't points at all, and the only place
they'd fit your Zephyr would be in the glove
compartment or in your fishing-tackle box
they'd make good sinkers."
Confusion of the customer by strange names
and esoteric gadgets is made easier, in some ga-
rages, by elaborate new diagnosing machines
which we called "Rube Goldbergs." These are
impressive structures with plate glass and a
glistening array of strange tubes, knobs, dials,
and columns of mercury. The mechanic would
hook a "Rube Goldberg" up with our car's motor,
turn knobs, read dials, and report that poor
Lorelei was suffering from half-a-dozen ail-
ments, all expensive and, as far as our test car
was concerned, entirely imaginary. Naturally a
certain number of testing devices are necessary
to the good repairman; but the fancy cabinets
and dressed-up appearances of the "Rube Gold-
AUTOMOBILES 1 09
bergs'' are not. They are too often too obviously
made to impress the customer. Not one of these
"Goldberg machines" said anything to the me-
chanic that led him to the real trouble the dis-
Salesmen of these devices call them "business
producers" or "merchandising machines," mean-
ing that they make it easier to sell repair jobs
to the motorist. As one scornful garage owner
remarked : "Fd buy one of them if the salesman
could show me how they help service a car ; all
they do is service your bills." These machines
cannot lie of their own accord, but men who
manipulated them admitted in confidence that
they could be made to say either Mamma or
Papa. "Rube Goldbergs" are not manufactured
and sold as simple and efficient tools but are
dressed up to impress the customer and are sold
with that appeal extremely prominent. Here,
for example, are two catalogue descriptions:
A POSITIVE BUSINESS PRODUCER. Every dollar
you invest in a Master Motor Tester begins to
earn you a satisfactory PROFIT from the day
you install the instrument.
1 10 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
It is a matter of record that most service sta-
tions write the entire investment off their books
within 90 days' time IN ACTUAL MONEY
MOTOR TESTER A SUPER BUSINESS-BUILD-
ING PIECE OF EQUIPMENT, actually sells needed
service. Service has to be sold. Nothing helps
sell service like an "X" Motor Tester.
BATTERY STARTER TESTER. Helps you sell new
batteries, starter overhauls, ground cables,
starter cables, and starter switches.
On our survey we found that the "Rube Gold-
bergs" were likely to be used to merchandise re-
pairs even when the car had nothing more wrong
with it than a dangling coil wire. Using an amaz-
ingly scientific-looking contraption, a mechanic
in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, announced that it
was necessary to repair the distributor and carbu-
retor, tune up the motor, and "free" the valves.
Here is another test case in which the investi-
gators made a firsthand acquaintance with
AUTOMOBILES 1 1 1
CASE 96. Tavernier, Florida. For miles beside
the new "highway that goes to the sea" along the
Florida Keys you see signs advertising this ga-
rage. I drove the car in on half an engine. The
mechanic gave the motor scarcely a glance. In-
stead, he backed up to the car a most impressive-
looking Rube Goldberg machine. It sits on a
tripod and consists of a three-foot-high case lined
in crimson. Inside the glass cover of this case is
a set of glass tubes with a number of twists and
bends ending in a mercury column. If the
mercury rose to a place on the gauge where it
read "leaky manifold," why, that was certainly
what was wrong. Other positions indicated "car-
buretor out of order," "sticky valves," "leaky in-
take," "advanced motor," "motor surge,"
"cracked manifold," etc., etc. After consulting
this machine the mechanic first told us that the
carburetor was dirty, then that we needed a new
fuel pump, and finally that we needed work
which would come to a total of $20. At that I
pointed out the disconnected wire to the me-
chanic and asked if that made any difference.
With unruffled calm he replied : "Oh, I took that
off myself to get a better test."
112 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
Another device used by many repairmen to
pad their bills is the u tune up." No two garage-
men mean the same thing by it, and it is impos-
sible for the average motorist to tell just what has
or has not been done to his car. Never be
satisfied with the explanation, "We gave it a
tune up" as a description of what you are paying
for. Demand specific itemization.
CASE 93. West Palm Beach, Florida. There are
dozens of men employed in this huge station,
one of a nationwide chain. Up on the wall was a
big sign titled "$3.50 Worth of Work for $1.00,"
and then a list of "FORTY OPERATIONS IN
ONE," with a list of "forty things we do when
we lubricate a car." I left the car with the usual
story but also asked for the grease job.
In the morning the bill was $2.64, which
breaks down to "Motor Tune Up, $1.49; Lubri-
cation, $1.00; Zerk Fitting, fifteen cents." "What
did you do to the motor?" I asked. "Oh," the
mechanic said, "we tuned it up." "But what spe-
cifically did you do to correct our trouble?" "The
nightman did it and he's gone." Lorelei had
been greased, all right, but they had not done all
of their "Forty operations in one." I pointed at
the sign and said to the service manager : "You
didn't do all those things, did you?" "Well, we
did most of them anyway." I asked him: "Then
why doesn't your sign say: 'We do most of these
operations for $1.00'?"
CASE 360. Hollywood, California. When I re-
turned for the car it was in what they called the
"proving ground," with all the Rube Goldberg
devices attached. The coil wire was still off. The
mechanic's tale of woe was a dismal one: "This
job will take four hours. You'll have to leave it.
You mustn't drive the car this way. I can't say
yet exactly what's wrong but half your engine is
completely dead. A motor tune up would help a
I asked him how much a motor tune up was.
"A motor tune up is $5.50, but that isn't enough.
You'll need your distributor synchronized and
carbon cleaned. You need a new fuel pump. You
ought to have new plugs. Your distributor will
require new parts. You'll need two condensers,
and we'll have to have a carburetor repair kit
too." The estimate which he wrote down for me
114 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
added up to $25. The fellow let me drive away
("to come back tomorrow") with the coil wire
still dangling in midair after he had unhooked
the impressive apparatus that is part of his
(Patric's note: What on earth does a motor
tune up include, if all the rest of these operations
are something extra? If the distributor is gone
over, carburetor fixed, new plugs installed,
carbon cleaned, new condensers, new fuel pump
installed, then what else is there to require $5.50
worth of "tuning"?)
CASE 276. Laredo, Texas. I told the nightman
the usual tale about buying the car for $625, hav-
ing it fixed, about how it had run fine until
"about twenty miles out all of a sudden it started
running badly as if it were trying to climb a
tough hill on high, even when it was on the
level." I asked the nightman to see if he could
fix it. The bill next morning was for $3.50.
"What did they have to do? What caused my
trouble?" I wanted to know. "Oh, we went all over
it and tightened it." The fellow continued : "We
fixed your lights, we fixed the doors so they
AUTOMOBILES 1 15
wouldn't rattle, and your generator was about to
fall off." That was their complete diagnosis of
CASE 251. Dallas, Texas. This garage has a large
repair shop. I showed our club membership
card and said I'd come here because I'd get
more dependable service if I went to official ga-
rages when I had trouble. The superintendent
called the mechanic, who pulled the car over by
the window and lifted the hood. I went down
and waited an hour and a half in the lounging
room every minute expecting the car would be
ready. Finally they said it was done, and the
office man made out the bill. "Did you ever have
that motor tuned up?" he asked. "Well, it was
reconditioned not long ago. And it was running
perfectly, just as fine as a car could run, until
about twenty miles out of Dallas it went bad all
of a sudden."
"Well, our work comes to $7.16." I requested
an itemized bill. He made it out and told me:
"We had to exchange your distributor, but be-
cause you are club members we're giving you 25
per cent off on the parts." "What did the tuning
Il6 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
of the engine take in?" I asked. "Spark plugs,
carburetor, and general tune up," was the an-
(Patric's note: Spark plugs were not cleaned.
I took out a couple and looked. Also the distribu-
tor on our car, after they had ''exchanged" it,
hadn't even been wiped off.)
This automotive survey left us with complete
skepticism in regard to slogans, mottoes, guaran-
tees, and advertising signs on garages. It is a re-
grettable fact that we were cheated by the "Au-
thorized Service" and "Official Garage" places
whether they bore the name of an automobile
manufacturer or an automobile club or associa-
tion, as w r ell as by the independents. We ran into
repeated evidence of how some car manufactur-
ers send men around the country with simple ail-
ments, like loose spark-plug wires, to check up
on their authorized agents. But seemingly the
field is too large and the pickings too rich. Many
agents can't resist that easy chance and take the
risk of being found out by the parent organiza-
As the investigators moved from coast to coast,
making test after test of the repairmen, it often
became something of a major problem to keep
the car looking as an ordinary tourist's car should
look. We were never particularly worried that
news of what we were doing would leak out. As
Patric said, "Even if anyone did get wind of it,
they wouldn't believe it; no one could ever be-
lieve that someone would spend good money
purposely to get gypped from coast to coast." But
it was sometimes difficult to keep the mechanics
who worked on the Zephyr from leaving marks
that would make the next man suspicious. Patric
explains the solution to one such problem in this
It might be well to mention what we must do
now before every experiment or two. Our
Zephyr motor is now very dusty. But when a
mechanic works on the coil, or pretends to, he
knocks the dust off the coil by wiping it or leav-
ing finger marks, and therefore the coil shows
that the car has just been worked on.
So we have a ten-cent fly spray gun, and we
spray the coil lightly with kerosene. Then we
wipe dust off the inside of the wheels and beat
the dustcloth on the fan belt until the coil is
Il8 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
covered with dust. Then a couple of flicks of the
cloth on the coil, and it looks as if it hadn't been
touched since the last overhaul.
We must also paint a couple of places on the
radiator shell, where mechanics' arms, reaching
down always in the same place to connect the coil
wire, have worn the paint off a little. Nobody but
us would notice it probably. But we'll take no
One unexpected source of what might have
been petty politics or what might have been
graft is illustrated by this Tampa, Florida, case:
CASE 119. As we left the previous garage we
saw two wreckers tearing down Florida Avenue
about 70 m.p.h. with a motor cop tailing them.
Thirty blocks down the road there was a traffic
snarl. There'd been a wreck, and there were six
shiny wreckers on the job, with the cop giving
speeding tickets to two of them. It was late eve-
ning. We wondered how all those wreckers had
reached the scene so quickly when we hadn't
been able to find more than one garage open for
service in Tampa after a half-hour's hunt.
Finally we saw a little barnlike garage near
the scene of the wreck; we drove into this place
on half a motor. A forty-year-old mechanic with
most of his front teeth gone spotted the loose wire
instantly and said : "You was carryin' one of your
motors for a spare." "I was what?" "Them
Zephyrs has just the same as two motors; they
got two condensers, two coils, two banks of cyl-
inders. You was runnin' on only one of 'em."
"What do I owe you?" I asked. "Oh, a coupla
thousand bucks and we'll call it square."
I tried to pay the fellow, tried my damnedest
to get him to take at least a quarter, but he
wouldn't. "I'm from Kansas City," he said, "an'
I expect to be here quite a spell. I don't want
you Northerners to think you get gypped every
place you go, like you'd get gypped if you
was that guy that just had the wreck over
"How'd those six wreckers get there so fast?"
"Oh, it's a racket. The city of Tampa charges 'em
a good big license fee to operate wreckers, and
then the boys that run the wreckers sit around
and play poker and listen to short-wave radios.
When a police call comes in about a wreck some-
wheres, they're off like a bat outta hell, tryin' to
120 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
get to the wreck first and get hooked on. Six of
'em over there."
"Do they run garages too?" "Some of 'em.
Mostly they just run wreckers an' take the work
to whatever garage will give them a cut they
gotta, because they gotta pay graft to be allowed
to listen in on the police radio. But you let one of
'em haul you in an' you're stuck. If you don't let
'em fix the car where they want it fixed, they soak
you twenty bucks or so for haulin' you in. They
get you comin' and goin'."
Cops to whom we talked at the scene of the
wreck admitted, not to graft, but to "petty poli-
tics as the cause of this damned racket."
One garageman in Holbrook, Arizona (he
overcharged us), engaged in an informal con-
versation with our investigators sounded the ad-
vance note of a chorus that repairmen by the
dozens were to take up later in their own defense.
It was a logical criticism of motorists who neg-
lect car maintenance. This serviceman said :
"Some of these tourists deserve the kind of
treatment they get from repairmen. Fellow came
in here not long ago. I put in some gas and looked
at his oil. He needed some, and then I noticed
the oil line to his filter was leaking. I said he'd
better let me put on a new line. He asked, 'How
much?' and I said six bits. He said, 'You're too
damned high,' and drove off. Few hours later I
heard him coming. Sure enough, the same car
limped by here with at least two bearings gone.
It cost him $35 or $40 to get it fixed down the
street. If he'd let me put that oil line on while it
was just cracked, before the thing broke clear
off, as it must of, why, he'd have saved all that."
Many repairmen whose shops and garages we
tested didn't have the slightest desire to discuss
mechanical details with the investigators, or to
explain their charges. In Savannah, Georgia, a
serviceman who was asked to explain his charge
for "repairs to ignition" answered : "Lady, when
the doctor gives you pills he doesn't say what
ails you. If you knew as much about an engine as
we do, we wouldn't be in business." Others were
more communicative. One fast, low-priced and
capable man in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, asked
to rate the difficulty of the test we were present-
"Well, a dumb mechanic might take ten min-
122 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
utes to find that disconnected wire, if he were
really dumb. A good mechanic ought to find it,
if he didn't happen to notice it at once, in three
minutes at the outside. But listen, if you really
want to tie a mechanic up in knots and find out
how really good he is just put a pencil mark
across the accumulator in the distributor." "Ah,"
said Patric, "and the current will jump along the
pencil mark instead of across the points?" "Yeah.
And you'd be surprised at what that will make an
engine do. I've seen a lot of fine mechanics work
over that thing for an hour and not find what
"But," said Pat, "that wouldn't be fair to the
mechanics, then. After all, we're not looking for
miracles. We're just looking for ordinarily hon-
est service. We want to distinguish the guys that
put this wire back and charge us $2.50 for over-
hauling the carburetor. It would be good for you
if somebody stopped them; your customers
would be easier to deal with if they hadn't been
gypped so often." "You're right about that," the
fellow said. "Life 'would be a lot pleasanter if
there weren't any gyps."
Another of the ten points of advice which we
urge motorists to follow in dealing with their
repairmen is "demand itemized bills." Here is a
case in which following this simple rule helped
CASE 195. Paducah, Kentucky. A large, well-
equipped dealer agency, giving twenty-four-
hour service. When I returned for the car the
service manager said that it was done, and that
the bill would be $1.50. "What was wrong?"
"Your timing was late and your points weren't
set right." "Please give me a bill, and write on it
just what you told me about the timing and the
points," I said. The fellow made out the bill as
I requested, but made the charge only $1.00 in-
stead of $1.50. This has happened before with us
ask for an itemization, and the amount is re-
For the gyppery they suffer, usually in blissful
ignorance, drivers themselves are largely to
blame. For the motorist who cherishes his pocket-
book and his car, here are ten positive command-
ments to be followed :
i. If possible, stay with the car and watch the
124 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
mechanic work. The job will be better done, for
he can't be sure how little you really know.
2. Avoid strange garages as much as you can.
Most of them never expect to see your face again.
3. Remember that the big garages, the ones
"recommended" by a hotel, the ones with neon
lights and Rube Goldberg machines, are likely to
be less honest than the smaller places where the
owner works. For square, competent service, seek
out a garage where farmers go. In cities, places
that specialize in repairing trucks are less likely
to have the gypping habit. It's harder to fool a
4. Ask in advance for the return of any parts re-
placed. You will be less likely to be given some-
thing rescued from the scrap pile.
5. Whenever possible, tell the mechanic ex-
actly what is wrong with your car. Give its symp-
toms precisely. Don't let him get away with a
"tune up" of the motor, which may mean that
he has done anything or nothing.
6. Demand an itemized receipt on the garage's
printed billhead. Reluctance to put villainy
down in black and white sometimes results in
7. Study the shop equipment. Ask yourself hon-
estly whether it was designed primarily for work
or to impress you. Remember that lathes, drill
presses, valve facers, grinding wheels, electric
drills, as well as humble wrenches, are designed
for workmen, not, as some modern Goldbergs
are, designed to "create customer confidence" and
sell more service.
8. One kind of mechanic to look for is one
whose chief interest is "fixing something." He is
seldom a good businessman, so he's usually found
in a small shop. Every job is a challenge, to be
fixed quickly, at the lowest possible price. Be
careful that this man doesn't undercharge you.
He isn't thinking about money; you have to do
that for him.
9. Above all, be very wary and watchful. Don't
hesitate to challenge every charge; to demand
explicit proof of its necessity. Skepticism is your
only chance of reducing the odds that are against
10. When you find a capable and honest me-
chanic, be honest with him. Be loyal to him. Let
no one else work on your car except in emergen-
cies, for you have made a priceless discovery.
WHEN WE SET OUT to pose a simple problem in
elementary honesty for radio repairmen from
coast to coast, we followed the same principles
as we had followed in the auto-repair field. That
is, we created in the radio the simplest possible
mechanical defect, instantly obvious on opening
the set. It was just this simple: we loosened a
tube. The loosened tube, nearest the back of the
set, stuck up like a wobbling signpost; you could
not help but see it. In this test we used Zenith
RADIOS 1 27
"wavemagnet" portable sets, three of which we
bought new for the survey.
But in order to collect the largest possible
number of test cases we bought another radio, a
pocket RCA. There was an advantage to the use
of this smaller set. "While Lioy May has the car
out on tests," wrote Patric in a report on the first
case involving the RCA, "I have to tote the
Zenith. I might carry two Zeniths well enough,
but you can't go into a radio shop with both of
them. So I wrap up the RCA and carry it like a
box of hardware under my arm. I plant the
Zenith first and pick it up last, so that I never
appear to a radioman to be carrying two sets.
This extra radio speeds up our work in places
where there are many shops." In this little set we
sometimes loosened a tube, but usually we dis-
connected one of the two snap-on wires from the
"B" battery. This, too, is just as obvious to any
inspecting eye as it can possibly be.
In every case, before entering a repair shop,
the investigator tested the radio to make certain
that it was playing as well as ever then loosened
the tube or slipped off the wire and walked into
the repair shop.
128 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
How did the repairmen meet this simplest of
problems? Well, the first thirty-six radio shops
visited, in Eastern cities and towns, sold the in-
vestigators thirty-two new tubes. Not one tube
'was needed. Does this raise in your mind a sus-
picion about the last couple of tubes your repair-
man sold you? In the face of such experience, is
it possible to merely shrug one's shoulders and
say, "There are gyps in every industry"?
Perhaps the public has helped create this
broad habit of petty theft. Said a mechanic in
Camden, New Jersey, annoyed at Miss May for
asking specifically what had been wrong, "Most
people don't ask anything about it so long as the
radio plays. They're just glad it's fixed." But,
whatever the cause, this investigation proved that
the habit had become nationwide in the radio-
repair industry. Of 304 shops, of every type, in
every state, IQ$ tried by one device or another to
take advantage of the customer. Some critics call
it gross incompetence; we call it downright dis-
honesty. The investigators ran into it 64 per cent
of the time.
Remember, this was the simplest kind of test
with which a radio repairman could be con-
RADIOS 1 29
fronted. A radio magazine once sent to scores of
random shops a set with only a broken speaker
wire and received diagnoses as varied as ours and
higher estimates. But our "trouble" was far
simpler. Seventy-six repairmen proved that by
detecting the trouble the instant they removed
the back of the set. These men pushed back the
tube or hooked up the wire, usually laughed, and
refused to make a charge. Thirty-three others,
equally truthful, made a charge so moderate as
to class them also as honest. The straightforward
service which these 109 honest men rendered puts
the majority of the radio repairmen to shame:
CASE 56. Suffolk, Virginia. A friendly looking
kid waited on me. He quickly found the loose
tube in the RCA with the remark : "This tube
had nothing to hold it solid." Then he tried the
radio and it played. "What was the matter?" I
asked, pretending not to have noticed what he
did. "Just pushed a tube in, that's all. There
won't be any charge for that." "What's your
name?" I asked. "Ebenezer, but everybody calls
me Sneezer. I'm a high-school student, learning
the radio business for high-school credit. It's
130 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
kind of a vocational course, you see, with the high
school co-operating with the people who can
teach students a trade."
CASE 300. Cheyenne, Wyoming. A large radio
parts-and-supply house. "We don't as a rule re-
pair radio sets," the fellow said, "but since you're
here, I'll look at yours. Here's your trouble.
Simple, hey? Now she plays fine. No, no charge
CASE 223. Albuquerque, New Mexico. An old-
established side-street place into which I took the
radio with the loose wire. The fellow opened the
set, immediately saw the loose battery wire, re-
placed it, listened to the set, and said: "It seems
to be all right now." "What do I owe you?"
"Call it a quarter." "I'm glad I came here," I
said, and mentioned some of the things he might
have told me. "There are shops that do that," the
fellow grinned, "but we aren't one of them.
There's plenty of real work to be done without
inventing things people don't need. We like to
make customers, not drive them away. We hate
to make a charge for little things like that, but
we've got to charge something to help cover our
overhead/' "I'm not kicking," I answered; "I'm
glad you found the trouble so quickly."
CASE 103. Deland, Florida. "I'm not the radio-
man," said the clerk, "I'm on the selling end.
Well, I can look at it. I used to fool around with
radios, but I gave it up. Why, here's a loose tube.
That's all. Now she plays. Oh no, I couldn't
charge for pushing in a tube."
Such frank dealing with customers was re-
freshingly at variance with the practices of the
majority of radio-repair shops encountered by
the investigators. Out of every one hundred tests
the customer was cheated sixty-four times by the
repairman. Is it, or is it not, a fair inference,
therefore, that sixty-four times out of one hun-
dred the radio repairman will sell a strange cus-
tomer tubes, batteries, and services which his set
doesn't need or charge him for parts he didn't
even put in? Some radiomen lied for small
amounts; will a man who lies for a dollar sud-
denly turn truthful if he sees $20 ahead?
The larger the town, the more frequent the
swindling. Radio shops in places with a popu-
lation under 10,000 were 51 per cent dishonest,
132 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
while in larger cities the percentage of gyppery
rose to 66 per cent. Seventeen out of the nineteen
shops tested in New York and vicinity gave false
diagnoses and ran up wholly unjustified bills to a
total of $35.75. In one week the "radiotricians"
of the great metropolitan area took from us more
than the cost of our new $30 set.
CASE 31. New York City. A medium-sized shop.
Miss May left the set; when I called for it an
attached bill read "three tubes blown." Sur-
prised, I asked, "But what would blow three
tubes?" "You left the switch on." "But that
shouldn't blow three tubes. What about people
who play their radio all night?" I asked. "Well,
that would do it too." The man became very nerv-
ous at this point, twisted his face, rubbed his
head, anxious to get rid of me. Beside the set were
three evidently blown tubes. It was quite obvious
he had picked out three bad tubes to substantiate
his statement. He hadn't expected to be dealing
with a man ; when he made out the bill he was
thinking only of the gentle-mannered Miss May.
A great deal of the cheating involved tubes.
Tubes are the great radio racket. In order to get
a conclusive check-up on the repairman's jug-
gling of our high-grade standard tubes we found
it essential to have marked -tubes. The following
excerpts from Patric's survey notes .give some
indication of the care with which we set the stage
for the investigation :
Supplementary report. Mr. Wallace made the
suggestion that these radio tubes of ours be
marked in some secret way. Each tube carries
the familiar legend: "Made in the U.S.A." So
on all our tubes I scratched off the periods from
the U.S.A., making it U S A. I figured nobody
but a printer, proofreader, or such would notice
that. This unpunctuated "U S A" uncovered a
variety of subterfuges employed by mechanics
who charged for new tubes when they had not
changed any; who took out the set's costly tubes
and installed inferior ones; or deliberately
burned out the tubes in fictitious "tests." Our own
tubes, which were Zenith tubes, come in stout
boxes sealed by the manufacturers, making sub-
stitution impossible if the customer sees the seal
broken and the box opened. Makers are well
aware of servicemen's dishonesty; that is why
they seal their tube cartons.
134 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
CASE 51. Salisbury, Maryland. The bill was
marked: "New tube, $1.55." "I'd like to talk to
the man that put it in," I said. "You'll have to
wait. He's out for a while," was the answer. I
waited. He came back. "May I have the old
tube?" I asked. "It was a Zenith." Meanwhile I
saw that he had replaced a tube not the one I
had loosened with one of another make. The
fellow looked all over his shop for a Zenith tube.
Finally he went outside and talked to another
man. Then he came in, went to the shelves where
he keeps his cartons of new tubes, and from an
already opened carton took a Zenith. // was our
good tube, all right, marked USA, and he
simply had added it to his own stock.
CASE 15. York, Pennsylvania. When I returned
to get the set I found this verdict: "Three tubes
blown out $6.50." "Gosh," I said, "I can't af-
ford that. I'll have to think it over." So I took
the radio away and inspected it. The loose tube
had been pushed down into its socket. But now
the set wouldn't play at all; clearly they had
checked it, found what was wrong, and then
tampered with it. So back went the radio : the re-
pairman made a considerable show of taking new
tubes from their boxes, putting them in the radio,
wrapping the "blown" tubes, and giving them to
us with the receipt for $6.50.
CASE 176. Milwaukee, Wisconsin. "You had a
condenser blown and a tube burned out $2.50."
I asked for the old tube and the old condenser.
"Here's the old condenser," he said, picking one
off the floor, one too large ever to have been in
our set. "But the tube will take longer to find."
I heard him hunting, and in ten minutes he came
out, triumphant and relieved, with a tube. Mean-
while I had checked my set. I still had all my
"U S A" tubes. One glance at his "U.S.A." tube,
and I said, "Sorry, but that has never been in my
set." He looked blank and scared, and faltered,
"I don't know what you mean." "Mister," I said,
"you know exactly what I mean." He seemed re-
lieved when, paying nothing, I walked out.
CASE 79. (Let's call him Korber.) Charlotte,
North Carolina. A radioman put on a trans-
parently false show of testing the tubes and de-
cided two were bad but that there was still more
trouble in the set. So the investigator left it, spe-
136 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
cifying that he wanted all old parts kept for him.
When he returned there were no old parts for
"We took the tubes to the Zenith distributor
and exchanged them for new ones. So we have to
charge you only $1.50 for service." So I went out,
bought a postal money order for $1.50, and re-
turned to Korber. The two tubes he had put in
were not Zenith, but off-brand. "You got an ex-
change from Zenith but put off-brand tubes in
my set?" I queried. "They're fine tubes we put
in," he said. "Mr. Korber," I said, "I have paid
you with a postal money order because if you
cash it you may be liable for misuse of the mails."
Korber, poise and suavity gone, blurted, "But
I'm clean. I didn't charge you for anything, just
Why is the retail servicing of radios so ridden
with deceit? The best answer was given by a can-
did repairman in Chicago. Caught in the act of
cheating, he confessed everything. We later
learned he had been fined by the Department of
Weights and Measures for selling short-measure
aerial wire. He said to us : "Mister, you've got
me. I admit you're right. I didn't put in a new
tube. Your tubes were all right. We'll give you
your money back if you'll give us the bill and the
tube. We have to do that sort of thing. Every-
body else does it everybody in the radio busi-
ness. Fellow comes in here with a $30 radio and
says 'Fix it.' Why shouldn't we get two, three
bucks from him? We've got rent of $300 a month,
we've got taxes. Most of the time radios come in
there's nothing much more wrong with them
than there was with yours. But suppose we
charged a customer fifty cents. Think we'd make
a friend of him ? No, we wouldn't. He'd just think
we didn't really fix his radio he'd think we
couldn't have done a good job for fifty cents. See
that customer that just went out of here? See how
pleased he was? Well, I fixed his radio, between
other customers, with ten cents' worth of wire.
I charged him three and a half and he's tickled to
"If you'd taken your radio over across the street,
they'd have done the same as I did. Why, one
woman went over there needing one tube, and
they sold her six. You can't get away from shops
around here for less than a couple of dollars. So
138 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
why blame us for doing something everybody
else big and little does?
"The public doesn't know a damned thing
about radios, and you've got to make them think
that you do. The public is a bunch of chiselers
anyway. Let the public learn something about
them. That's the only way they can keep from
paying too much."
The above plea of guilty makes it sound as if
it were impossible for a radio repairman to give
cheap, good, honest service. But contrast that
situation with the following cases of straightfor-
ward dealing which the investigators discovered :
CASE 44. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The man
took the tubes over to a testing machine while I
watched. Finally he located a bent prong on one
of the tubes that had been causing the trouble.
He only wanted a quarter. "I could have gypped
you easy," the fellow said. "I could have pressed
the wrong button and told you a tube was bad.
But I've been in business eighteen years. That
kind of thing doesn't pay in a small town."
CASE 114. Miami, Florida. "I'm not the radio-
man," said the clerk. "He won't be back until to-
morrow. . . . Well, I know a little about radios.
Here, there's nothing wrong only a tube
popped out of the socket." He wouldn't accept
any money for it.
CASE 41. Reading, Pennsylvania. The first three
electric and radio stores I went to in Reading
referred me to this place, saying the man there
was a good, reliable mechanic. I left the radio
and started toward the door. Just as my hand
grasped the knob the mechanic yelled at me:
"Hey your radio's fixed already." I walked
back into the shop, saying "Already?" "Just a
tube loose," he answered. He made no charge for
A particularly distressing phenomenon of the
radio investigation and of the other surveys, too,
was the frequency with which the woman investi-
gator was gypped among the repairmen we sur-
veyed. Chivalry was apparently a dead letter.
Miss May was cheated sixty-eight times out of
every hundred times in the radio investigation,
Patric only sixty times per hundred. The av-
erage woman's complete lack of mechanical
knowledge, her disinclination to question bills,
140 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
her hesitancy in demanding the return of old
parts make her an easier mark than the male cus-
tomers. Particularly when dealing with the
woman investigator did repairmen fake tech-
nical-sounding disorders to cover their crooked-
Said one radio repairman in Tallahassee,
Florida: "It's hard to say exactly what I did to
your set. I removed some of the invisible oxida-
tion." More indifferent mechanics would not
specify anything further than "repairs." "One of
the tubes was temperamental" was the explana-
tion given by one man in San Luis Obispo, Cali-
fornia. This case in Moscow, Idaho, reveals the
attitude of many repairmen toward being spe-
cific with their customers:
CASE 274. "You're all done. Plays fine now
it'll be $1.50," the repairman told me when I re-
turned. "Had to solder a loose connection." I
asked him to show me where. "I couldn't do that
without taking the set all apart again." "That's
all right," I said; "you can charge me extra." He
fumbled nervously with the set. "You annoy me,
standing here," he said. "Please go over there
and sit down." "I want to see what you did," I
said. "I want to see where you did that solder job
not some future solder job." When I insisted
on his itemizing "soldering a loose connection"
on the receipt, the mechanic said: "Listen, I
don't know who you are or what your game is.
But I'll tell you right now we never tell a cus-
tomer what's wrong with his radio, and why?
Because he wouldn't understand us. Especially
women. Can we go into technical detail with cus-
tomers? They'd get all confused. So <we just tell
them whatever sounds most reasonable. That's
the way we keep our customers satisfied."
Again it was the woman investigator who was
the victim of one of the radio survey's costliest
contacts with dishonest repairmen in an excep-
tionally well-equipped shop in Baltimore, Mary-
CASE 1 8. Upon my return, after leaving the radio
set, the proprietor greeted me affably. "You
needed three new tubes, but we thought we
ought to contact you before making the change,
especially since we did not have the tubes in the
142 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
shop. They are a new design, hard to get." (This
was a lie.) I said, "Oh well, since the tubes are
hard to get I'd better take the radio along." He
answered : "We can get those tubes in a couple
of hours." "I haven't that much time." "Well,
maybe we could get them in an hour." The effi-
cient-looking girl in the office said, "But we'll be
closed by then." The proprietor put in, "It hap-
pens I have to stay a little overtime." So I re-
turned, only thirty minutes later; the mythical
new tubes it would take so long to get were "in"
and the set was ready, indicating that the tube
story was more phony even than usual. The bill
Early in the radio survey we discovered that
dishonest repairmen displayed a'marked aversion
toward specifying on their bills exactly what
they said they had done to our radios. As the
investigators swung southward along the coast,
then headed west across the country, time after
time they encountered mechanics, willing to lie
orally, unwilling to lie in writing, who hid their
crookedness behind vaguely worded receipts.
Sometimes Patric would press these men to be
specific about itemizing repairs they said they
had made and the mechanics would go through
all sorts of fantastic maneuvers :
CASE 245. San Francisco, California. "You
had a wire loose. I soldered it good for you," the
man' told me. "How much do I owe you?" I
asked. "Two dollars and a half." The fellow
looked at me and studied my face. Then he said :
"But you can knock off the two dollars and call
it fifty cents." "Fine," I said. "That's mighty
nice of you. Now please write me out a receipt
and tell me, on that receipt, exactly what wire it
was you soldered."
"I haven't any receipts," the mechanic said.
"Well, would you write it on a piece of paper
and sign it?" "Oh," he said, "it wasn't anything.
There was a loose tube too. That was more im-
portant than the wire." "Never mind about the
tube," I said. "It's the wire I'm interested in.
Here's your fifty cents. Now please write out a
receipt. Just say you soldered a wire, and sign the
"Oh, it was such a little thing. I don't like to
charge you anything." I answered, "But I'm not
144 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
objecting to the charge. It's fair enough. You
soldered a wire, and I want to pay you. But I
must have a receipt saying which wire you
soldered." But the fellow refused to make out
any receipt and finally refused to make any
When the investigators attempted to recover
old parts which repairmen claimed they had re-
placed it usually proved as hard as taming the
wind. This imaginary "replacing of parts" was
a persistent source of evasion and deceit.
CASE 130. Tallahassee, Florida. This was an
RCA case. The man said: "You had a tube
blown little bitty thing about the size of your
finger. Luckily I happened to have a new one.
They sell at $1.55." "Fine, please give me the old
one." "Sure, unless the colored man has thrown
it in the trash." The fellow went out in the rear
for a few minutes then returned. "That colored
boy done went an' carried it home with him!"
"H'm," I said. "What would a colored boy want
of a blown-out radio tube?" "I dunno, but that's
what he did." I took a look at the "new tube"
that he said he had put in my set. It was the one
that had been in there when I brought the set into
CASE 33. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. "It needed
three tubes. Your bill isn't much," the mechanic
told me, adding up some numbers to the amount
of $4.25. I asked for the old tubes. "Those have
been thrown outside in the trash." Then he
turned to his co-worker and said, "That door to
the outside is locked, isn't it?" It was obvious
they had no old tubes to give me. I paid $4.25 for
a typewritten receipt the actual labor.
In not a few cases the investigators met out-
right sabotage. One man in Dallas, Texas, spread
apart the center socket so that the center post
made no connection. One in Milwaukee twisted
a connection so it would not function. This in-
stance of dexterity on the RCA took place in
Memphis, Tennessee :
CASE 152. The mechanic pulled out my B bat-
tery, put in a fresh one, and hooked up the dis-
connected battery wire. The set played, of course.
I expressed surprise that my old battery had
burned out so soon and started to put it back.
"I'll do it for you," he said, and put it back up-
146 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
side down, so the set was dead. "I think you have
it upside down/' I remarked.
"All right, just to show you," he said, and
turned the battery around. Then he held the
wires in reverse by a sleight-of-hand trick, so
that the positive wire touched the negative pole,
and vice versa. I commented on that and asked
him to change them and snap them into place.
He did ; but this time he pulled a tube loose so the
set wouldn't play.
CASE 53. Crisfield, Maryland. Completely dis-
regarding the loose tube, the man began testing
on a tube tester. One tube he said was bad, the
others O.K. He didn't have Zeniths, so I paid
the labor charge of $1.25 and left. The set now
would not play; one tube's filament had been
burned out like a bad light.
An honest mechanic, in Norfolk, showed Pat-
ric how this could be done on a standard tube
tester. "The flash is so faint you can't see it un-
less you turn the lights out. Here's a weak old
tube. I'll show you the trick" and he did.
In the face of such handling of the radios by
the repairmen it becomes difficult to remember
that these were brand-new sets, in excellent con-
dition, which had been playing perfectly until
the very minute the investigators walked into the
repair shop. And the repairmen examined these
good radios, and produced, by way of alibi and
evasion, no less than sixty-eight different ex-
planations of what was wrong; sixty-eight em-
broidered untruths. These diagnoses indicate in-
genuity at least:
Three tubes out of sock-
Shorted condenser gang
Switch points dirty
Remove partial short
Aerial lead kinked
Wire broken on antenna
Solder loud-speaker wire
Solder oscillating coil
Piece of solder left in
tube socket at factory
Set out of alignment
Remove whistle from set
Some of the repairmen got tough:
CASE 133. Andalusia, Alabama. I was given a
smooth line by the manager. Said he'd checked
this and that, tuned everything up, adjusted the
148 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
set, and soldered a broken wire. "Where was the
wire?" I asked him. He showed me one that had
been soldered at the factory.
I handed him a silver dollar and said, "Now,
please make me out an itemized receipt and put
down those things you did." "Sure thing." He
made one out and omitted the soldered wire. I
said, "But please include the wire you soldered.
That's important, too, isn't it?" "Why do you
have to have that?" "I just like itemized receipts,
that's all." Then the fellow wrote down, "Repair
"I'm sorry, sir," I said, "but this won't do
either. You're an electrician. You know that tech-
nically a broken connection might mean a thing
so simple as an open switch, or a tube out of its
socket. You said you soldered this wire; that it
was broken. Please put that down just as you told
it to me." "But why do you have to have that
written down?" the fellow asked. "Mister," I
said, "you'd be surprised if you knew. But since
you did solder a broken wire, I can't see what
objection you have to writing it down."
Then the fellow's face grew livid with rage.
"I've never had anybody act like you since I've
been in business." And he hauled off and was
about to take a poke at me but customers re-
strained him. "Tell me what you want me to
write," he said, still boiling mad. "Write just
what you told me you did. Then I'll be satisfied."
"I'll meet you outside, and then you won't be
satisfied, you -" he muttered. "That sounds
like a threat of bodily violence," I said. "Do you
threaten your customers just because they want
receipts?" "Well," he stormed, "nobody else ever
insists on that kind of receipts." At last, in des-
peration, he wrote out the receipt.
CASE 165. Lincoln, Illinois. "You had a burned-
out tube," said the repairman "$2.30." I
spotted my "U S A" tube on the bench beside
him. "Now just for my own satisfaction," I
asked, "please test that tube that's burned out."
So the guy deliberately pressed the wrong but-
tons and made the tube test "shorted" and then
"bad." I said, "I still can't see how such a new
tube would have burned out. I'm going to put it
back in the radio and try it again." He protested,
but I took out his tube and put mine back in. Of
course the radio played fine. I said, not angrily,
150 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
"I don't think I need a new tube at all." "Well,
then, you owe me a dollar for service," he told
Then I did show anger. "For service? What
service? For telling me my good tube was burned
out? You may call that service, but I don't."
Then he got awfully mad, rushed at me and
landed a terrific kick on my right thigh. I said,
"Mister, you shouldn't have done that. You just
must not kick your customers." Then he whined,
"I want my dollar." I said, "The only way you'll
get that is to come with me to the police station."
"I didn't kick you hard," he pleaded. I went to
a doctor, who painted a four-inch skinned place
with iodine; then I got a policeman and we went
back to the radio shop. But the man was gone,
and nobody knew when he would be back.
Several relieving comic notes occurred in the
course of the radio check. In Paducah, Kentucky,
a man found the loose tube immediately but
stated that the tones were bad and the speaker
needed repair. The investigator queried him
till he admitted that the loose tube had been
the whole trouble.
"But I let you off easy. Some shops here would
charge you $6.00 for what I did." At this point
I told him that I knew the tube had been loose,
that I was checking radio shops. "Then," ex-
claimed his wife, "you came in here just to see if
we would tell you lies? I don't think that's being
CASE 304. Chicago, Illinois. There was a charge
of $1.00 when I returned. "What was wrong?"
I asked. "There was a loose connection." "How
did you fix it?" One clerk said, "We usually
have to solder them." "Where was it?" I asked,
opening the radio. "Don't know as you can see
it," said the other clerk. "But if the loose con-
nection were simply a battery wire off, like this,
would the charge be $1.00 just the same?" I
queried. "We don't charge for things like that,"
answered the clerk. "Then I may assume you did
have to solder something, or the charge wouldn't
be $1.00?" "Yes."
"Since you're sure it was a solder job," I said,
"would you write me the bill that way? You see,
I don't mind paying for a solder job at the rate of
$1.00." Without hesitation the fellow wrote the
152 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
bill: "Solder loose connection." Then I had an
idea. "Would you be willing, if I asked you, to
make it out to the Better Business Bureau?"
The fellow wrote part of a capital U B" before
he tumbled. Then he grabbed the phone and got
the mechanic who had worked on the set. "Tell
me exactly what you had to do. The notation
says loose connection. That all? Well, you make
me out a liar down here." There was no charge,
then. The first clerk assured me in no uncertain
terms of the reliability of this outfit, and how this
was "just a slip-up." But Miss May had paid the
same shop even more.
The tour of radio shops revealed that there is
considerable use of elaborate testing panels. In
honest hands, the better of this Rube Goldberg
equipment is helpful in trouble-shooting. In dis-
honest hands, even the best of it can be made to
give any desired diagnosis, as the investigators
discovered in so many of the cases they en-
countered. Virtually every shop has on its counter
a smaller machine with rows of mysterious gadg-
ets, flashing lights, and a dial indicating "Good"
and "Bad." A crooked dealer, by pressing the
wrong combinations of buttons or switches, can
show that any tube is "Bad." Rube Goldbergs
can be of real value to an honest repairman; but
in our investigation we found that they gave dis-
honest mechanics great opportunities to practice
The testimony of the operators themselves on
this subject is eloquent. We have already cited
the case in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (Case 44),
where an honest repairman revealed how easy
it would have been to deceive us with his testing
panel. In Madison, Wisconsin, the proprietor of
an exceptionally fine and honest shop was asked
why he used no such machines. He said: "Don't
need all that stuff. Of course those things make a
beautiful display, but about all you need is a volt-
meter and a few other little things. IVe got all
the testing equipment right here on this little
tool cart. It doesn't make the beautiful display
that those fancy panels make, but you don't need
as much test equipment for most work as people
think." A lecturer in a radio school said, "No
good serviceman has any use for such a machine,
except to merchandise tubes and convince cus-
tomers. Make no mistake about that."
154 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
At one point in the transcontinental journey
Patric stopped some days to attend a radio
school. His curiosity was well rewarded, for the
proprietor said to him privately: "It will take a
year to learn the radio business, but we can teach
you enough so you can fool the public in about
three months." And an instructor later went on to
give some highly instructive advice, interesting
to the radio owner, for whom it was not intended.
"When you operate your own shop, hire a serv-
iceman, but pay him a commission, not a salary.
He will take a part that costs five cents, put it in a
radio, and charge for a $3.00 or $4.00 service job.
The trick is to get these jobs out fast. A good man
will turn out six or eight an hour. Suppose he
does make $100 a week on commission you're
getting $300 worth of work.
"Never do any home radio servicing. Never do
any work while the customer watches you. Other-
wise you can't get a good price. You should ad-
vertise home service, yes, but go into the home
with only a little equipment and say you'll have
to take the set back to the shop to work on it.
"Nine tenths of the stuff that goes into a radio
when it is serviced is something the radio didn't
need. Put in new by-pass condensers and such
whether the set needs them now or not. You get
a good price for them, and they cost only a few
cents. If you don't do that, in a couple of months
a condenser may go bad, and the customer may
think you did a bum job.
"Never give the customer the old parts you
take out. He'll take them down the street and a
gyp shop will tell him they would have sold him
for $1.25 what you sold him for $2.50. What does
the customer know about quality?"
Where, then, lies the hope for the public, con-
fronted with a situation such as that uncovered
by our survey of radio shops? There is hope.
Though honesty in little things may have gone
into temporary eclipse, it surely has not been en-
tirely obliterated by the widespread habit of
petty thievery. The stability in this industry, the
responsibility, ought to rest with the manufac-
turers. Why do they not take an aggressive in-
terest in stamping out this dishonesty? They
would probably sell more and better sets if the
cost of keeping them were less often increased
by repairmen's overcharges and swindling. The
good will they build up at great cost is constantly
156 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
being broken down by repairmen who explain
high charges for imaginary repairs by blaming
"poor workmanship at the factory."
When our article appeared, not one maker of
radios either wrote us or came to see us, as so
many automobile makers had done. They didn't
seem to care. Letters by the score from repairmen
blamed poor manufacturing methods for much
of radio gyppery. "Radios aren't as well made as
they were ten years ago" . . . "There are so many
different models no standardization whatever
. . . that we must buy $100 worth of manuals and
blueprints merely to have the wiring charts of
the sets that come into our shop" . . . "Manufac-
turers don't want to sell better radios they want
to sell cheaper ones at high prices. They go bad,
and we get the headaches."
None of our auto mechanic critics blamed the
car makers for poor material and workmanship.
Virtually all of our radio mechanic critics
blamed the radio manufacturers.
As for the customer, let him seek to acquire an
elementary knowledge of how a radio works. Or
let him seek the advice of a friendly "ham"
an amateur operator who from his own experi-
ence can recommend a competent and honest
shop. Insist on getting new tubes in factory-sealed
cartons. Ask for the old parts. Insist on itemized
bills stating in detail precisely what the job was.
It may even be wise to identify tubes by marking
them in some secret manner. Neighbors might
check their repairmen and compare notes.
It may be possible for some towns to adopt the
system which our investigators found working
well in Reading, Pennsylvania, where three
shops referred the job to a radio center, which
promptly and honestly serviced the test radio.
Again, it may be possible for service shops to
organize their own self-policing organizations,
planned for protecting customers, not white-
washing members, or enabling members to get
higher prices by displaying certificates and tooth-
less "Codes of Ethics" and calling themselves
"Certified' 7 or "Approved." There are some. A
radio guild functioned in Miami once but folded
up. "It was a good thing," testified an ex-mem-
ber. "It cleaned out a lot of crooks."
THE WATCHMAKER'S CRAFT is an ancient and
honorable one. In theory, the watchmaker is the
descendant of a true guild. You might say that
watchmakers have been in the truth business for
over four hundred years, for the essence of a
watch most certainly is truth-telling. It would
therefore be reasonable to expect these craftsmen
to be as honest as the beautiful machines with
which they deal.
But in actual fact, the watchmaker today is f re-
quently not at all a watchmaker, he is a watch
repairer. Sometimes he is neither of these, but a
high-pressure salesman who farms out his repair
work. Whatever he is, he is permitting his fel-
lows to prostitute the watchmaking art. His is
one of the few handcrafts which can flourish even
in an age of mass production; yet he himself is
Just about half of the watch-repair shops
gypped us. That is what we discovered as we sub-
mitted to watchmakers in all forty-eight states
watches with the simplest possible trouble. We
obtained 462 clean-cut tests; in 236 the watch-
maker made the simple repair easily and swiftly.
But 226 of them gave long-winded diagnoses of
this or that technical difficulty, lying, overcharg-
ing, performing sleight of hand to wring dollars
out of the investigators.
The watches themselves gave no trouble ; they
were in perfect condition at the start of the in-
vestigation, and by resort to honest repairmen
they were kept in as nearly perfect condition as
the sabotage and clumsy handling of the crooks
permitted. Yet the watchmakers prescribed un-
counted cleanings, seventy-six new mainsprings,
160 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
fourteen new winding springs, ten new winding
stems, half-a-dozen new click springs, and gave
fifty other explanations, often bordering on the
grotesque, of what was wrong or needed. Time
after time they said things like "thread stripped,"
"cogs gone," "washers worn," "new clutch
spring." Among the more imaginative diagnoses
were "this watch is in bad shape," "this has
slipped its chuck," "has half-a-dozen screws
loose," "needs all new parts."
We found 49 per cent of the watch men gyps.
A veteran of the business insists the true percent-
age is eighty.
This betrayal of their trade is all the more ir-
ritating when you consider how personal and
cherished an object a watch is. Almost everyone
has pride in his or her watch; everyone depends
on it in important moments. Further, the Ameri-
can watch today is the best in the world ; it is ac-
curate (a good watch will run within a minute a
month), reasonable in price, standardized in
mechanism, easy to repair, and exceedingly dur-
able for so delicate a machine. All the more
shame to those dishonest and greedy men who
mishandle it for profit.
Americans own some 75,000,000 watches and
in normal times buy annually nearly $2,000,000
worth of new ones from the three big American
makers. This is no small field for grafters.
Four watches of different types were used on
our investigation, carefully selected to present
to the "expert" the simplest of problems. They
were all famous American makes : Elgin, Hamil-
ton, and Waltham. One was a wrist watch. Two
were bought new for the investigation, one was
bought secondhand, one was a real old-timer ; but
all were cleaned and regulated before the tour
started. They cost f rom $10 to $40 a price range
which includes 70 per cent of American watches.
Every watch has what is called a "crown
wheel." It is the largest wheel you see when you
open the back of most watches, lying directly at
the end of the winding knob and shaft. In the
center of the crown wheel is a very obvious, ac-
cessible screw. Loosen that screw a couple of
half-turns and you disconnect the winding gears ;
you cannot wind the watch. The instant you
tighten the crown-wheel screw you can wind the
Just before entering each shop the investiga-
1 62 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
tors would loosen the crown-wheel screw. They
would tell the watchmaker that the watch had
recently been overhauled and was keeping good
time until suddenly it refused to wind. They
asked the watchmaker to "please fix it so it will
wind again." Was this a fair test? It certainly
must have been, for 228 repairmen detected the
trouble at once, tightened the screw, and made
no charge. Some of these were not even watch-
makers ; some were assistants or youngsters. One,
far from being a jeweler, was an itinerant knife-
sharpener and repairman pulling a child's ex-
press wagon about San Antonio with soldering
irons and crude tinkers' tools. He tightened the
screw with a piece of razor blade.
CASE 391. Portland, Oregon. "The watch-
maker's gone on a trip," I was told. "Neither of
us are watchmakers." The two lads were in their
late teens. "Look at it anyway," I told them,
"maybe you can give me an idea what's wrong."
One, still protesting he was no watchmaker, re-
moved the back, got a screw driver, and tight-
ened the screw. "That seems to be your trouble.
No charge, of course."
CASE 53. Annapolis, Maryland. Only a girl was
in the store. "The watchmaker's out for the day,"
she said. I asked her if she knew anything about
watches. "Not much," she answered. "What is
the matter with this one? How did it act when
it went bad?" "Well, it started slipping a little,
then more, until finally it wouldn't wind at all."
"Then I do know your trouble isn't a main-
spring," the girl said. "I do know that much
about watches. Here, this wheel is loose. Maybe
if I tighten this screw it'll be all right. There,
that was the trouble, all right." I offered to pay
her, but she wouldn't take any money. "We never
charge for things like that not ever," she said.
A clerk, not a watch expert, in a Charlotte,
North Carolina, shop, performed the same task
with speed and efficiency, refusing to make a
charge. So did a woman assistant in Salisbury,
Maryland; so did an eighteen-year-old appren-
tice in Austin, Minnesota. This case in Concord,
New Hampshire, is exemplary:
CASE 512. This is a fine jewelry house, with a
nice grade of merchandise carefully displayed.
164 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
Two men were employed. One, the watchmaker,
said: "I could charge you $1.50 and tell you to
come back in an hour or so, but we don't do busi-
ness that way. You had a loose screw, that's all.
It's like a clutch, and when you shifted, it
wouldn't take hold and wind." There was no
CASE 38. New York City. The watchmaker was
working back at his bench, and I had to wend
my way through a maze of furniture and bric-
a-brac to get there. The old German opened
the case quickly, squinted at it for the briefest of
instants, then said : "If I vas crooked, I schwindle
you goot. I sharge you ad leasdt two dollars, an'
I say dot de shpindle is busted. But see here. I
show you someding. I shurprise you. See, mit dis
shcrew driver I joost tighten on dis shcrew. Now
she's fixed. Vy should I schwindle people? Not
for noding I got vatches from de schubway line,
from de police. I don't sharge you noding. I get
you next time."
So easily and quickly the honest and able re-
pair people disposed of this elementary repair
job. But others used the occasion to lay on the
charges for work they well knew was non-ex-
istent. Nor were all the gyps in back-alley shops ;
some of the most famous jewelry names out-
charged the little fellows. In Philadelphia an
established house asked $9.00; a similar place in
Detroit wanted $5.00. The high cost of watch
"repair" ran $4.00 in Dallas, $6.50 in New Or-
leans, $4.00 in Mobile, $4.50 in Denver and
Cheyenne. In New York City a new watch with-
out even the crown-wheel screw loosened was
presented to a big Fifth Avenue jeweler it drew
a $10.00 estimate. This store has a big overhead
and apparently tries to make it up on every
The watchmakers know this condition exists.
They will tell you so. They told the investigators
so, as witness these cases :
CASE 90. Lexington, Kentucky. The jeweler
tightened the screw and handed the watch back.
No charge. "Better let me pay you, sir. I'd be
glad to. Why, I suspect that some jewelers in the
cities might have told me I needed a new main-
spring." The watchmaker answered: "You
wouldn't have had to go to a city. Some watch-
1 66 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
makers right here would put in a mainspring or
say they did. I knew what was wrong with your
watch the minute I turned the winding knob."
CASE 493. Stamford, Connecticut. This man
charged nothing. He said: "I could have told
you this would be a big job and had you leave
the watch. But there's work enough to be done
that's legitimate. The watch is all right now.
There's no charge." When I mentioned the high
estimate other watchmakers had given me and
asked if maybe they hadn't seen the loose screw,
he smiled : "Oh, they saw it all right, make no
CASE 470. Cleveland, Ohio. The watchmaker
told me : "The winding mechanism is pretty well
shot. It needs some new parts; the cost will be
three dollars." I let him talk a little about how
much work there was to my job, then I got out
my screw driver, as I sometimes did, tightened
the screw, and said : "Why the devil do you want
to tell me all that hooey about $3.00 worth of
work?" The fellow looked at me, saw I wasn't
mad, and said, interestingly: "Well, I've been
here less than two years. I started out by being
truthful and honest, but hell! The more honest
you try to be the less the public believes you. You
know what was wrong with your watch. But the
ordinary customer doesn't. If I were to tell him
the screw was loose and charge him a quarter,
why, he wouldn't believe me. I've found you do
a lot better in this business if you do like the rest
of them make the job sound as if it really
amounted to something. Then they'll think you're
a better watchmaker and have more respect for
you. The customer judges the kind of job you do
by the price you quote. I know what I'm talking
about, because I've tried both ways."
An honest veteran in an upstairs shop in To-
peka, Kansas, was fluent:
CASE 293. "Many watchmakers are crooked,"
he told me, "because the public doesn't know
anything about their business. Whenever you find
a trade that the public knows nothing about, you
find a certain type of men going into that trade,
men who deliberately set out to make money on
the public's ignorance. If you sharpen a man's
knife you can't cheat him he knows if you do a
good job. We aren't all gyps, though. I make a
1 68 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
good living, but I'd do better if the gyps didn't
take the cream of the business. That's why I'm
always willing to show up a careless or crooked
watchmaker. I wish there were more customers
like you going around with little tricks and show-
ing up the crooks. It would help the whole
One crooked repairman displayed the typical
escapist alibi philosophy of his kind, blaming his
own sins on a conventional handy goat:
CASE 183. Canton, Mississippi. "I can fix this
for $1.50. But why do you have it fixed at all?
Why not trade it off for a good watch you won't
always be having trouble with?" "But I just had
this one fixed," I told him. "Who fixed it? Some-
body around here?" I told him that I thought it
had been the Excel Company. "Oh, that damn
Jew. What do you expect for your money from
a sheeny like that? You know who's against 'em,
don't you? You know who's going to chase the
s out of business, don't you? Hitler! He's the
man to do it."
Here I interposed : "Maybe I'd better go back
to that watchmaker and have him fix it again."
"Hell, he'll find something else wrong. That
guy's a crook. But I tell you what I'll do I'll
fix you up for a dollar."
As a matter of fact, Jew and Gentile gypped
Watchmakers who wish to do so can gyp the
customer in a variety of ways, as we found out on
our survey. The idea underlying every instance
of swindling, however, is to pretend that there is
much more work to be done than is really the
case and to charge accordingly. In some shops
that send out their repair work the "watch-
makers" who interview the customers are spoken
of in the trade as "take-in" men; they are sales-
men who sell repairing by posing as watch-
The ingenuity which dishonest watchmakers
employed in attempts to manufacture repair
business for themselves was startling.
CASE 50. Washington, D.C. "This watch won't
wind," I said to a man whose face was princi-
pally nose one of the largest noses I've ever
encountered. The fellow expertly removed the
back of the case, tightened the screw, and gave
170 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
the winder a couple of experimental clicks. Then
he took his screw driver again and loosened the
same screw. "You need a new winding spring,"
he told me. "It'll cost you $3.50." "What did
you find with that screw driver?" I asked him.
"Just checking to be sure I was right," he said.
The watch was on a velvet pad in front of me.
"Let's see the screw driver," I said, and before
the fellow thought he'd handed it to me. "Let's
see, you tightened this, didn't you, to check it?"
Whereupon I tightened the screw and started
winding the watch. "Why, it works all right
now!" The guy's poise didn't leave him for a
minute. "Oh yes, it seems to work. But there's
serious trouble inside."
CASE 370. San Francisco, California. The watch-
maker tightened the screw and said : "This
watch is all out of order. It will cost $3.50 to fix
it all up." "Does it wind now?" I asked. "It's all
out of order," he replied. I said : "But I'm not
worried so much about that. It didn't wind.
That's what I asked you to fix. Does it wind
now?" "I wound it," he told me, "but it isn't
fixed. It'll go bad right away." I tried again, but
still he wouldn't tell me what was wrong. Noth-
ing was, of course, except the loose screw.
CASE 147. Miami, Florida. A small shop. The
owner said : "You got a stripped winding wheel
all the teeth are worn out. It'll cost a dollar to
fix it." I asked him if he had the parts. For reply
he took out a little box of winding wheels and
compared several carefully with the wheel from
my watch. Then with a neat hand-is-quicker-
than-the-eye technique he put my old winding
wheel back into the watch. I asked to see "my old
wheel" ; he handed me a rusty one that had never
been in my watch. "This isn't mine mine wasn't
rusty like this," I said. Then I showed him how
the design on the wheels now in my watch
matched, proving that no change had been made
Said one honest man in Norfolk, Virginia:
"With a wrist watch, if you fling your arm sud-
denly to one side sometimes this little coil spring
binds. Friction holds it there, and the watch
won't run. You can fix it by simply tapping it;
but crooked watchmakers will charge $2.50 to
172 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
Four successive shops in Key West gave in-
teresting results. Two said, "New mainspring,
$2.00." The third, "I'll need two hours to find
the trouble." The fourth, "The shipper spring is
broken, $1.50." Our survey revealed that the gyps
frequently run in local infestations, like boll
weevil ; the investigators struck four in succession
in Milwaukee, in Omaha, in Council Bluffs, and
in San Diego; five in New York, six in Denver
and Chicago. On the other hand, we encountered
one after the other, four good shops in San An-
tonio, five in Topeka, five in the smaller cities of
Maryland, and twelve in North Carolina's Ra-
leigh, Lexington, Charlotte, and Salisbury. One
man's method of business seems to have an effect
on his neighbor's.
Here are a few of the varying diagnoses the
watchmakers made; the things they said our
watches needed :
New pinion New winder
New clutch spring New ratchet
New click spring Winding stem broken
New hairspring Winding wheel broken
New setting wheel Clutch lever broken
New balance staff "Some pieces broke"
Loose pivot Sleeve gone
Loose winding clutch Threads stripped
Loose screw under crown Screw missing
wheel Clutch weak
Six loose screws Wheels binding
A dozen loose screws Oil gummed up
Shipper spring broken Watch all out of order
In none of the 462 tests that form the basis for
this chapter did any of the watches used by the
investigators have any of these things wrong.
In Los Angeles, Patric, without revealing
fully the nature of the survey, got into friendly
argument with an old colleague of his National
Geographic days, Francis Woodworth, now pub-
licity man for the Los Angeles Chamber of Com-
merce. Woodworth loyally insisted that local
ethics were high.
"All right," said Patric, "you take an hour off
tomorrow morning. Go to a few jewelers you
pick at random. Get estimates on having this
watch fixed. You don't know why it doesn't wind.
If, after you've made four or five checks, you
still think Los Angeles jewelers are all honest,
I'll buy your lunch."
Woodworth went to three jewelers. Each told
174 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
him the mainspring was broken. One said the
mainspring "and other things," and wanted
In a small Oregon town one watchmaker ac-
counted for the frequency of the "broken main-
spring" diagnosis in this way:
CASE 389. An old established shop. The owner
said : "You need a new mainspring. It will be
$1.50." Later, in the course of a talk on how hon-
est he was, he said : "It's my custom to charge for
a mainspring anyway, even if it isn't broken.
Yours really is broken, but lots of times you can't
explain to customers just what's wrong because
they wouldn't understand. But they all under-
stand a mainspring."
When the investigators stopped to discuss the
problem of mainsprings with the watchmakers
they ran into a variety of contradictory state-
CASE 486. Wheeling, West Virginia. "A dol-
lar and a half. It's the changes in the weather that
break mainsprings. There are two bad seasons
for mainsprings, and this is one of them."
CASE 148. Sarasota, Florida. "Two dollars. You
know they've offered $100,000 to anyone 'who
can tell why mainsprings break. The Horo-
logical Association has offered it. The manufac-
turers want to find out. Three manufacturers
each put up $10,000 to have men watch a main-
spring until it broke. It was about ten o'clock on
a spring day when it broke, but there wasn't a
sound. They used to say it was thunderstorms, but
it's a big mystery why they break."
CASE 298. Holland, Michigan. "We can give
you two types of mainspring. One costs $1.50.
The other is a much better type, guaranteed for
one year, for $2.50.
CASE 225. Chicago, Illinois. "A dollar and a
quarter for a new mainspring. Mainsprings are
never guaranteed" "But," I said, "your card
says you guarantee all work." "Not mainsprings.
But I tell you what I'll do, I'll put one in for
A "guarantee" means little or nothing, as the
jewelers admitted to our investigators. When
they were trying to sell a job of repairing they
played up the guarantee ; but when the investi-
176 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
gator objected that a prior jeweler had guaran-
teed his repair job the salesman would explain,
"Oh, he guaranteed only the part he repaired.
He didn't guarantee the watch to run."
Plain and fancy gyppery alternated among the
dishonest repairmen. Here are some typical in-
CASE 405. Pullman, Washington. "This will cost
$2.50. There's trouble down inside. It will be
quite difficult to make this watch wind. It will
take some new parts and a lot of work." I pressed
for more details, and finally he said : "There's a
tooth gone on the winding wheel. That's most of
your trouble." "How much will you charge just
for the wheel and let me put it in?" I asked him.
The fellow rose to his full height with an air
of injured annoyance. "I suppose you want me
to go to all the trouble of locating the right size
wheel, grinding it to fit, perhaps, and then selling
it to you cheap? We're watchmakers. What do
you think we're in business for?" "Mister," I
said, "I've heard your long lecture about how
hard it is." I tightened the screw and wound
the watch. His jaw dropped; he looked scared
as the dickens. There were other customers in
the store. He said hoarsely, "Step over here a
minute. Tell me what the idea is."
CASE 181. Jackson, Mississippi. "The trouble is
your winding wheels; it'll cost $1.50." He then
went into a rigmarole about wheels too high,
wheels binding, worn teeth, copper washers, and
stripped threads. "Let me see those threads,"
I said. "I do a little work on my car, and I know
about stripped threads." "Well, if you know all
about it, why do you come here?" I asked him
for the wheel and the screw and his tweezers. "If
you're a watchmaker, what did you come in here
for?" "I'm not a watchmaker, sir. If I were, I'd
fix it myself. I just want you to show me what
you said was the trouble." "Take your watch
and get out of here, you ! I don't fix a watch for
a damned inquisitive smart Aleck like you. I feel
like taking a swing at you."
Other repair shops which the investigators vis-
ited displayed a liberal measure of incompetence
along with their faulty diagnoses :
CASE 373. San Francisco, California. The young
watchmaker told me: "Your clutch and pinion
178 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
are gone. This will cost you $2.50. You can have
the watch tomorrow. We'll have to get the parts
from the wholesale house, and it's too late to get
them today." I remarked that another watch-
maker had just repaired the watch and said : "I'll
take it right back to him and tell him you say the
clutch and pinion are broken." "Just wait a min-
ute," the man said, very perturbed. "I haven't
worked here long. Maybe we'd better let the
master watchmaker look at this watch. Don't
go. Wait a minute."
Gyp once, gyp twice. When our investigators
made second visits to some shops they found a
duplication of the results of the first visit ex-
cept in four instances when Patric received hon-
est treatment and Miss May was cheated.
Throughout the survey the man encounters
crookedness in 46 per cent of his cases, the
woman in 56 per cent. This follows the seemingly
general rule among repairmen of all kinds: it is
easier to deceive a woman. Here are two of Miss
May's experiences in Chicago:
CASE 477. This large store had fixed a watch for
Patric and made no charge. An elderly repair-
man said: "This needs a new balance staff and
cleaning. The cost is $7.50." He had tightened
the screw, then loosened it again before he gave
the watch back to me.
CASE 480. A short, stout repairman said : "The
cost of fixing this watch would be $5.00. It needs
cleaning badly." This place fixed this same watch
for Patric before without charge. The watch had
been cleaned since then.
When the investigators had to have a watch
brought back to perfect condition, after the man-
handling it had received, they waited until they
found a real watchmaker. One such, for fifty
cents, did a job that a dishonest repairman had
just asked $3.50 for.
Once in Chicago Patric inadvertently visited
the same shop twice. The repairman produced
a truly priceless diagnosis :
CASE 235. As soon as I got into this place I re-
alized I'd been there before. But I pulled out
the watch, and the fellow looked at it and then
looked at me. "How much to fix this watch?" I
asked. "You were here yesterday, weren't you?"
l8o REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
"Yes." "Well, I'll fix your watch for seventy-five
cents." (The day before he had wanted $1.25 for
a new mainspring.) "What's wrong with it?"
I asked him now. "What did I tell you yester-
day?" "I forget." "Well," he said, "the same
thing is wrong with it today."
As in the other surveys we made, the big cities
were less honest than the small ones. In the case
of the watch repairmen the percentage of dis-
honesty ran at fifty-one in the big cities and
thirty-eight in the towns under 10,000 popula-
Watch-repair shops sometimes show certifi-
cates and seals of this or that society. We got the
idea that these tended to be used chiefly as
decorations, not necessarily as reliable guaran-
tees of good work. One man in North Carolina
told of the Carolina Watchmakers' Guild, saying
its purpose is to establish reasonable and uni-
form prices. This watchmaker was honest. An-
other, in St. Augustine, Florida, displayed a
diploma of the Horological Institute of Amer-
ica but this repairman charged $1.50 for "ad-
justing the crown wheel." Pressed for details as
to how one adjusts a wheel, he admitted he had
merely tightened it. One repairman we encoun-
tered uses the slogan, "Patronize Us with Confi-
dence; We Originated Ethics in Watch Repair-
ing" ; then he asked $1.50 for a wholly unethical
Laws will not reform this condition any more
readily than they reform other human habits.
Wisconsin, land of much legislative experiment,
has a board of watch examiners which issues cer-
tificates of registration for watchmakers. Yet
Wisconsin was one of the bad states in the sur-
vey. In Milwaukee a "registered" jeweler wanted
$2.00 for a new mainspring. In Madison this was
duplicated. In Sauk Center the trouble was still
diagnosed as the mainspring, but the cost was
$1.25. Of sixteen watchmakers tested in that state
nine lied. One of the Board of Examiners (who
himself successfully passed our watch test) spoke
frankly: "I know you are telling the truth," he
said. "Those things take time. I've just been
checking complaints myself around the state. We
have improved things ; we do clean up a bad case
now and then. But we had to put a grandfather
clause in our law, exempting from examination
1 82 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
all watchmakers who were in business before the
law passed. I wish more people would do what
you are doing. At least we try to keep new gyps
from starting up."
What recourse has the citizen who has to have
a watch repaired?
First of all, avoid need for repair as much as
possible by taking good care of your watch.
Wind it in the morning, not at night; that makes
for more regular winding, and it means that the
watch is lying quiet during the hours when its
mainspring is running down. Don't overwind.
Don't open the back; dust will get in. When you
have to set your watch, pry up the knob with your
fingernails, don't pull it out. Set it either forward
or backward, it doesn't matter. If it's a wrist
watch, take it off when you wash your hands.
Have it inspected and cleaned once a year by
a reliable watchmaker. But how to find the re-
liable expert? Ask a number of friends for their
experiences. If you are willing to put some
effort into it, get several estimates on your repair
job; be sure to listen closely to the diagnoses as
well as the price. Demand detailed information.
Get the watchmaker to write it down. If he can-
not specify, if he talks about "trouble you
wouldn't understand, way down inside," go some-
Don't believe the "expert" who says cleaning
a watch is a big job and will take several days. A
good man cleans a watch in an hour, using twenty
minutes for taking it apart and assembling it
and forty minutes for the chemical baths, rinsing,
and drying. A wrist watch gets dirty sooner than
a pocket watch.
Don't patronize the shop which advertises
"your watch repaired for $1.00" or for any other
set price. That's like a surgeon advertising "I
will perform any operation on you for $25." It
can't be done. The most responsible watch men
insist that the shop advertising an all-inclusive
bargain price does little to your watch except
maybe pick out a little dust.
If you know a "time crank," a man who insists
that his watch must run with split-second ac-
curacy, ask him; he probably knows a good
Don't be impressed by the swank of a shop.
Repairing as a business does not demand swank.
Railroad watch inspectors are likely to be ca-
184 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
pable, though some may do these inspections only
for their advertising value. A useful clue in find-
ing a good shop is the number of watches hang-
ing on the watch board for regulating. Observe
that they are running swinging slightly.
It is obviously impossible for people to learn
enough about the complicated insides of a watch
to protect themselves against their present ig-
norance. But you can protect yourself by insisting
on specific diagnoses and on itemized bills. Don't
be afraid to cross-examine and quiz.
After all, you know, it is your watch and your
THE TYPEWRITER is an essential modern machine
which has won a place of universal dependence
and trust. In homes, in offices, in schools, millions
of them are used for the daily work of our highly
In the business of repairing typewriters there
is a condition of incompetence and dishonesty
which is different from corresponding conditions
in the repairing of autos, radios, watches, or
1 86 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
other mechanisms. It is different in that it is
shot through chiefly with ignorance and bun-
gling workmanship, and secondarily with over-
charging and gyppery.
When our investigators, John Patric and Lioy
May, took their guinea-pig typewriters, suffer-
ing from the simplest, most easily corrected de-
fects, into 150 repair shops throughout the coun-
try, they or the typewriters were gypped in 98
instances. Two times out of three the repairman
(i) overcharged, or (2) lied about his work in
order to build up any charge at all, or (3) said
the machine was "repaired" when actually it was
in worse condition than before.
Of these three sins of commission the last-
named proved the most serious. So harshly did
these "repair" men treat the typewriters that the
investigators found it necessary to keep one, for
actual use in writing their reports, away from
the shops, never submitting it to any so-called
experts. They were forced, too, to buy two more
new machines while on the road; the two
they started with were soon virtually wrecked
in the name of adjustment, overhaul, and
CASE 39. Savannah, Georgia. Typewriter X is
now in awful shape again. It will write, but that
is about all. The spring tension is too tight, the
letters pile up, the machine skips. I cannot write
CASE 126. Portland, Oregon. Our notes have re-
ferred constantly to the difficulty we are having
with the typewriters. They are persistently being
put into bad order. It has got so with one type-
writer that we hate to take it to any shop.
CASE 194. Las Vegas, Nevada. A medium-sized
shop gave me a bill for $1.50 for "repairing port-
able, inspection and adjustment, checked and
tightened." This typewriter is now so bad we ex-
pect to pick up another one.
When our findings in the auto repair industry
were published, some critics remarked that it
would be impossible to keep a car in first-rate
condition during thousands of miles of driving.
But careful preventive service kept the car
performing at peak efficiency all the way. And
similarly, in the typewriter survey, the investi-
gators nineteen times went to the branches or
1 88 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
authorized stations of the big national typewriter
manufacturers and had them restore the ma-
chines to proper condition.
But this fact stands out, painfully obvious : if
you take a new radio, or watch, or typewriter,
or a car in first-rate shape, and submit it to the
tender ministrations of repairmen, your chief job
at once becomes the keeping of that test article in
halfway decent condition. The typewriters, in
this survey, gave no trouble of their O<WM accord;
they had all their trouble visited, upon them by
A manufacturer's branch in Columbia, South
Carolina, repaired the machine. "What have
you been doing to it?" the mechanic demanded.
"Somebody's been trying to fix this without
proper tools. Everything is out of adjustment.
We usually give free service on little things, but
if I fixed this right I'd have to charge you. Be
careful where you take this typewriter. Every
adjusting nut on it has been chewed to pieces
by somebody who uses a big old pair of pliers
instead of the proper wrenches. Some of these
nuts can't be tightened any more, they're so
jammed up. Men who do that aren't typewriter
men at all. They know people are ignorant about
the machines and know they can get by with any-
Was our test, the problem we placed before
the shops, a fair one? On one typewriter the in-
vestigators loosened a nut underneath which
stopped the machine from writing. To "repair"
this called for a small wrench and five seconds
of time. On another they lifted off, with the fin-
gers, a wire link underneath which disconnected
the ribbon feed. To "repair" this called for ten
seconds' use of the fingers only. On a third they
slipped the connections and lifted the roller, or
platen, out of its groove so that it tipped up un-
evenly. Any typist could "repair" this, without
any tools, in five seconds.
Fifty-two shops tackled these elementary prob-
lems successfully; twenty-nine of those charged
CASE 98. Palm Springs, California. I took the
machine into a photo shop to ask where I could
get it fixed. The proprietor said, "What's wrong?
Maybe I could fix it." "Are you a typewriter
man?" I asked. "No. But I fix my own some-
190 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
times. I used to be a Hollywood cameraman, and
on location we had to fix our own cameras. Me-
chanical principles are the same in all mechan-
ical devices. Here, this is your trouble, this loose
link. It hooks on somewhere. There, that ought
to do it. No, you don't owe me anything for a
little accommodation like that."
CASE 1 1 8. Oakland, California. The mechanic
was extremely courteous. "How much do I owe
you?" "Nothing. All I had to do was slip a wire
link back on."
CASE 113. San Francisco, California. "There
wasn't anything wrong with your typewriter. A
little wire that lifts the ribbon had just come un-
hooked. We hate to charge for such simple jobs,
but we've got a big overhead, and we can't always
let them go out for nothing. I guess we'll call it
square for fifty cents."
The problem was simple and fair enough, as
simple and fair as tightening a loose screw in a
door hinge. And here are some of the field re-
ports of what happened. They happened, as in
all fields we have studied, more often to the
woman than to the man ; he was gypped six out of
ten times, she seven out of ten.
CASE 8. Baltimore, Maryland. This large office
supply house (a factory branch) told me they
couldn't fix the machine for two hours. When I
returned I was told, "The brackets and all the
underparts were bent." He gave me a bill for
$1.50, reading, "escapement dog," "operating
links and lever bent and loose." When I insisted
that he show me on the machine what had been
wrong, he said, "It's pretty technical for you to
understand, and it would be hard to show you."
This "too technical" alibi occurred four times
among the typewriter gyps as well as many times
among the radio and watch gyps. Another thing:
these men hate to do any work in front of the cus-
tomer ; the worst gyps usually get the customer
out of the way even before making an examina-
CASE 17. New Rochelle, New York. "Come back
in an hour and I'll give you an estimate." And
when I returned, "We can't do the necessary
work on the machine till tomorrow afternoon. It
192 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
may be quite a job." I told him I couldn't leave
the typewriter. He quickly opened the case and
took from the platen a piece of paper which he
crumpled in his hand. I saw he had typed an
even line of letters, something that could not be
done when I brought the machine in. "You've
found my trouble, then," I said happily. "No,"
he replied, fussed, "we wrote those letters by
moving the carriage at each letter." What had
happened was that he had found and tightened
the loose screw, written a line, loosened the screw
again, and forgot to remove his test sheet.
CASE 19. New.York City. "This machine," I said,
"won't write. The only thing I can see that might
be wrong is this loose nut. Do you suppose that's
the trouble?" Without tightening the nut to try
it, he said, "Can you leave it for a couple of hours
and I'll give it a check?" When I returned he
charged me $1.50. "That loose nut had something
to do with it but not much. Your trouble was a
piece of dirt lodged in the escapement. You
aren't paying for the removal of the dirt or tight-
ening the nut but for my skill in finding that piece
of dirt." Of course there was no piece of dirt.
Six times, like that, Patric pointed out the
loose nut to the repairman. All six denied that
the nut was the cause of the difficulty.
By their acts you can get a fair line on their
standing as repairmen. Here are three successive
clear cases, all in Minneapolis, occurring at 2:30
P.M. June 11,9:45 A.M. June 12, and 2 P.M. June
12. Within twenty-four hours these three shops
gypped the investigators out of $6.10. Note, too,
the evasion of the insistent request for the old
parts, supposedly replaced. This request natur-
ally is an active irritant to repairmen who have
replaced nothing. These cases happened to the
woman, using the machine with the platen askew.
CASE 1 66. Minneapolis, Minnesota. "You needed
new variable parts. We put them in and adjusted
the machine. It works all right now. The charge
is $1.35 for parts and $1.00 for labor." "Give me
a receipt, please, and I'd like the old parts."
"They were thrown out with the trash." "Will
you please get them for me?" "We couldn't.
They were too small. That trash has been thrown
out." "Then please write on the receipt 'old parts
thrown away.' " "We won't do it." "Why? I
194 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
paid for the new ones." "We won't do it. We
haven't had a customer like you in twenty years.
Come back tomorrow; we'll try to find them."
But when I went back the next day they said they
couldn't find them.
CASE 167. Minneapolis, Minnesota. When I re-
turned to this typical shop my bill was $1.25.
They said "we adjusted the escapement and fixed
the platen," and they had no hesitancy about
writing this on the bill. This same typewriter is
now certainly supposed to be in good repair.
CASE 1 68. Minneapolis, Minnesota. It looks as
if this out-of-place platen, which any stenog-
rapher could fix for herself, reveals that the cus-
tomer is a sucker. The head mechanic said the
bill was $2.50. "We adjusted the moving car-
riage, adjusted the tabulator, and checked it in
In Laredo, Texas, the request for the old parts
resulted in this :
CASE 86. "Your machine's finished. I had to put
in a couple of new parts $1.35." "Fine, may I
have the old parts?" The fellow looked around.
"Guess they must be lost." "Lost! How could
that be? You just replaced them ten minutes
ago." He looked some more; and when I re-
turned to the shop he said, "I looked high and
low for the bumper, but I can't find it."
"Bumper?" I asked. "You spoke of parts, not
part. What was the other?" "I didn't say 'parts,'
I said 'part,' and we can't find it. Musta threw it
On one of the machines, as has been said, the
test was the simple lifting off of a wire link. This
link is made by the factory with a certain bend
in it, and it caused the bungling mechanics no
end of trouble and confusion. One man replaced
it so that it fouled other parts and the typewriter
would not write capitals. Others forced it back
so roughly as to disarrange adjacent mechanisms.
Still others bent and twisted it hopelessly out of
shape and out of correct functioning.
CASE 128. Seattle, Washington. "Your ribbon
link was pretty badly bent and we had to
straighten it out." "Will you show me?" He did.
Again the link was badly messed up by a me-
chanic who hadn't the slightest idea how to hook
196 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
it up. I couldn't help showing my annoyance, for
this means another trip to a factory branch. "For
gosh sakes, if you had to bend it all wrong, why
didn't you just leave it as it was and say you didn't
know how to fix it?" "But it was all bent out of
shape." "Oh, my gosh, it wasn't/ That bichrome
link is supposed to have a bend in it, it's a factory
bend, and the link slips on and off with the fin-
gers when you throw the key on the stencil posi-
tion. Write me out a receipt." "No, I don't want
your money. But don't you come in here again
to get anything fixed!"
A man in Lewiston, Idaho, who had charged
only fifty cents for "straightening connecting
link and some other things down underneath,"
refused to give any receipt for the job. This was a
brand-new typewriter. At first he said he "had to
take off quite a few parts to reach the trouble."
Asked for a detailed receipt, he said, "Oh, such
a little job, I guess we won't charge this time."
The question of prices charged turns up sur-
prising angles. The investigators ran into several
indications of local price agreements among the
merchants of typewriter repair.
CASE 162. Cleveland, Ohio. The bill for "adjust-
ing escapement, replacing two wires, and adjust-
ing the ribbon movement" was $1.50. I had to
insist several times that the receipt include all
those items and then said, "Why do you find it
necessary to lie so?" They got pretty mad, and
the manager said, "I'll tell you something. The
typewriter association here has a minimum
charge of $1.50 to fix anything on any type-
Yet the next shop in Cleveland asked fifty
cents. This man, incidentally, was unable to re-
place the link, and when Patric showed him how
simple it was he exclaimed angrily, "I don't like
a fellow to come in here and make a fool out of
me. Get out and don't come back."
In San Francisco one shop asked $1.00 and ad-
mitted the job would take only five minutes. "A
dollar is the minimum charge all over the city.
It's trade custom." The next shop, which did a
good job on the machine, remarked, "They tried
to get us to charge a minimum, but I've been in
this business thirty years. You can't build good
will that way. Typewriters aren't much different
198 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
from fifteen years ago, and I've never yet seen
a typewriter that has worn out."
"A dollar and a half is the minimum all over
this city," said a man in Chicago. "We do have
a minimum charge of $1.00," said another in
Memphis, "but for anything as simple as this
we really couldn't charge anything."
In Albuquerque, New Mexico (Case 97), a
clerk insisted that the minimum charge was
$1.25, "but we are making this job seventy- five
cents; it was quite a job." I said, "Rubbish," and
in ten seconds disconnected the link and in ten
more put it back. "Now wasn't that all there was
to it?" "Under the circumstances," said the man-
ager of the store, "there should be no charge at
all. There is a usual $1.25 minimum by sort of
agreement among typewriter men."
Confronted with their gyppery, the dishonest
men went through sundry contortions.
CASE 177. Trenton, New Jersey. This small shop
charged seventy-five cents for putting in a "new
ribbon link" but of course could not find "the
old one." So I asked the fellow why he lied.
"Well, hell, our minimum price is seventy-five
cents. I could find that broken link, but my time
is worth $1.25 an hour and I'm not going out
there looking for any link." "All right, I'll give
you $2.00 if you find that broken link." "You get
out of here and stay out. I don't want customers
like you." Finally he offered me the seventy-five
cents back, but I preferred to keep the lying re-
A bungler in Portland, Oregon (Case 123),
tried vainly with pliers to hook up the link, not
realizing that he had to put the machine on sten-
cil to do so. Then he announced the link was bent,
and he would have to "correct" it.
I knew what that meant, so I stopped him and
showed how easily the link is replaced with the
fingers. "Well," he said defensively, "I knew
what was wrong, didn't I? Shouldn't I get paid
for what took so long for me to learn?" "Sure
you should. Here's your fifty cents." "Oh, I don't
mean from you, I mean from the ordinary cus-
tomer who doesn't know anything about type-
writers." "You mean the more ignorant a cus-
tomer is the more he ought to pay?" "Why er
200 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
no, not at all. But you take doctors, they charge
$5.00, and don't do anything."
Said one in Bismarck, North Dakota, defend-
ing his unnecessary tale of elaborate repairs,
"You can't make any job sound too simple, it's
And in Memphis a guilty repairman gave still
another excuse for his admitted attempt to gyp.
CASE 62. "Your ribbon link was disconnected.
It's necessary to take the whole back off the ma-
chine and remove the carriage to get it back
$1.25." So I threw the machine to stencil and
removed the link. "Now she's loose," I said, "as
she was when I brought her in. Watch care-
fully." With my fingers I quickly put the link
back. "Now she's fixed, in half a jiffy, without
taking off the back, without removing the car-
riage, without tools. No sir, I don't quarrel with
you if you charge me $1.25 and say the job took
only a minute; but I do object to the story about
taking off the back and the carriage. Write me
a receipt just that way." "We won't take your
money on that basis. To be frank, I'm not famil-
iar with this machine. But we have a tremendous
overhead; <we pay more than $600 a year in taxes
and we have to get that back some
In New Orleans an honest repairman esti-
mated that not 4 per cent of the typewriter me-
chanics knew their business in that city. In Port-
land, Oregon, evidence partly supporting that
comment showed when a clerk stated that the air-
plane companies were drawing off the best type-
writer men for training in assembling car-
buretors. "Why should we work for $30 a week
when we can get up to $50 in plane factories?"
Before the actual survey commenced Patric
took one machine, in perfectly good condition,
to three different shops with the request that they
overhaul it and put it in good shape. The first
charged $1.50, the second $1.60, and the third
$1.50; one spoke of "correcting a bad shift,"
another poured on so much oil that it dripped for
days afterward. It is impossible to say whether
these men were chiefly dishonest or whether they
were chiefly incapable. They were certainly un-
satisfactory as repairmen. If the first one did a
good job, the second and third were obviously
dishonest; if the third man was honest, the first
202 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
two were obviously incapable. Their own work
convicts two out of these three.
Insofar as there are able mechanics in this
field, they appear to be most numerous in the
local factory branches or accredited agents of
the big manufacturers. In typewriter repairing
the difference between the small independent and
the factory agent runs, on our evidence, in favor
of the factory agent. The independents averaged
70 per cent incapable or dishonest, the factory
representatives 37 per cent. The accredited
agents markedly tended to repair the machine
and charge nothing or very little and to do good
work. A few were gyps ; one in Pittsfield, Massa-
chusetts, refused to give a receipt on the letter-
head of the company he represented, saying he
was not allowed to use the letterhead u for that
purpose." But another, honest, in Spokane, in-
formed us that his company wanted no profit on
the service department and gave bonuses if it
In typewriter repairing honesty seems to pay;
the honest shops prosper and are large and well-
What constructive suggestion arises out of this
research? It is obviously pointless to urge people
to know more about their typewriters, because
they simply won't bother to take the time. It will
help, obviously, to insist on return of the used
parts allegedly replaced; it will help to insist on
receipted bills detailed on company stationery.
Unhappily, to be skeptical and demand reasons
always seems to help. But beyond those warnings
our investigators, for their own benefit, are de-
termined to take their typewriters for repair to
the accredited representative of the manufac-
It is the manufacturers to whom we should
look, in the last analysis, for the curing of these
First and last drawings in a cartoon strip by Walt Disney, reproduced
from autographed originals. Donald Duck lives in Hollywood where
we encountered America's most ambitious gyps. Donald's itemized bill
is two feet long. We had five in a row, $25 each for a fifty-cent job.
Vacuum Cleaners and
IN THE COURSE of our sampling of the country's
repair shops we made an attempt to test the re-
liability and honesty of the men servicing vac-
uum cleaners and electric irons. Nominally, the
survey resulted in visits to 141 shops which
handle one or the other type of these appliances.
The general trend of our tests seems to show that
the repairmen in these two industries, with much
closer ties to the manufacturers, are the more re-
VACUUM CLEANERS AND ELECTRIC IRONS 205
liable for it. Practically a number of factors com-
bined to prevent us from drawing the definite
conclusions which we were able to draw from
the other surveys.
In general, the shops that do repair work on
these two appliances are of a better grade and
have less interest in getting profits out of repair
work as such. They are often well-established
electrical stores, or local power company offices,
or agents of the manufacturers. Many shops, we
found, service only the make of iron or vacuum
cleaner which they sell. In this situation they
have a greater incentive to do honest, capable
In nearly a quarter of the 141 shops we visited
we were referred to another repair shop, or we
were told to send the appliance in to the manu-
facturer for repairs, or the repairman was out
on a job, or the shop wouldn't service our brand
of electric iron or vacuum cleaner. These fre-
quent cases in which no actual test was forthcom-
ing cut down the scope of our investigation in
this field considerably.
Unsatisfactory also were the only fair methods
we could devise of decommissioning the elec-
206 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
trie iron and the vacuum cleaner. In the case of
the iron, the trouble was that it wouldn't always
stay decommissioned. What we had done to cre-
ate a simply located defect was to disconnect a
wire in the plug. To make things look realistic
we had then shorted the wires across the post of a
storage battery so that the end of the wire had
fused a little, as wires do when they become very
hot when a few strands carry the whole load. The
investigators would leave the iron at repair shops
with the story that "it heats spasmodically,"
which would be true. This method yielded a
number of clear-cut tests. But many times, when
the cord was turned and twisted, the disconnected
wire, though loose, would make contact. Thus
many repairmen, finding the iron heated all
right, would not bother to take the plug apart
and would merely tell the investigators that "it
must be your socket at home." But we made
enough tests to convince us that here the honest
repairmen outnumbered the gyps.
The vaccum-cleaner test consisted of simply
rolling the belt off the drive wheel, so that the
machine ran and sucked air but picked up little
dirt. Of the eighty vacuum-cleaner shops we
VACUUM CLEANERS AND ELECTRIC IRONS 207
visited about half handled the problem instantly
and reasonably; a quarter of them did not, either
charging exorbitantly or telling tall stories; and
another fourth did not get around to looking at
the machine at all, either telling us that they
handled only one make or that we should send it
to a power company. These somewhat incon-
clusive returns appear to rate the repairmen in
these fields considerably above the average.
Unlike the auto investigation, which revealed
that large and impressive garages were less hon-
est than the small repair shops, we found the situ-
ation here somewhat different. We were seldom
gypped by the big merchandisers.
A good reason as to why the power and electric
companies tend to give capable if somewhat inac-
cessible service was put forth by one repairman
in Wheeling, West Virginia, to whom we took
our "decommissioned" electric iron. He told us:
"Take it to the electric company, they'll fix it
free, probably give you a cord if you need one.
Those electric irons take more juice than a
cleaner, a washing machine, a radio, and a lot
of lights all put together. They use juice, irons
do. So the electric companies like to keep 'em
208 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
running. Take it over there. We can't compete
with 'em, so we don't." Many of the manufac-
turers' agents in these two fields appeared to be
much more responsible than similar agents in
other fields. Possibly the bond between agent and
manufacturer is stronger and closer here than
In one respect did the repairmen in these fields
notably revert to type. When cases of gyppery
did crop up, it was much more likely to happen
to the woman investigator. In Trinidad, Colo-
rado, a vacuum-cleaner repairman charged her
$1.53 for "repairs inside the pipe." In Salt Lake
City another charged her $4.50 for "service." But
in general, with these two appliances, the verdict
was more apt to be: (Savannah, Georgia.) "No,
I'm sorry, we usually send those jobs to the
Savannah Electric and Power Company, but
they usually want a week to do any kind of re-
pair job." (Spokane, Washington.) "It was a
simple job, all fixed now; just twenty-five cents."
(Springfield, Illinois.) "Your belt was off
that was all that was wrong no charge for
that." (Cheyenne, Wyoming.) "Sorry, but we
don't repair any other make but our own." (Lex-
VACUUM CLEANERS AND ELECTRIC IRONS 209
ington, North Carolina.) "Lady, we've tested
this iron. It's still very hot. It doesn't seem to
have a thing wrong with it. See if your socket is
all right in your home.
The factor of time comes into these two sur-
veys. The vacuum cleaner is a big thing to carry
around, and it took the investigators two or three
times as long to park, leave the "prop," call back,
etc., as it did to make the more important car
checks. Similarly, it was difficult to get immedi-
ate service on both the cleaner and the electric
iron. The time factor played some part in reduc-
ing the scope of these surveys. The fact that these
were simpler mechanisms than cars, radios, or
watches harder to gyp you on, for that reason
undoubtedly played a part. But the lack of sweep
and conclusiveness notwithstanding, these sur-
veys seemed to give an indication, at least, that
the closer the repairman and the manufacturer
are bound together, the more honest and capable
will the service be in that industry.
8 What Is Your Experience!
INTO THE WILD CONTROVERSY which followed
instantly upon the first appearance of the repair-
man stories both the general reading public and
repairmen themselves plunged with abandon.
The trades covered by our investigation have set
up angry howls of protest. But their brickbats
were offset by an extraordinary avalanche of
bouquets, corroboration, and thoughtful com-
ments from the vast majority of the general pub-
WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE? 211
lie. "A fine piece of work" . . . "It will save
motorists millions" . . . "My experience is
identical." . . . "You didn't go jar enough."
. . . "The exposure was long overdue." Thus
car owners by the hundreds voice their approval.
Many even go the investigators one better
with repairman experiences of their own:
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A garageman said it
would cost $40 to fix my starter. I waited until I got
home. My neighborhood mechanic found only a
broken wire, which he soldered for fifty cents.
Milton, New York. I stalled my car on the streets
of New York City and paid $22 for new spark plugs,
condensers, and I don't know what all. Back in
Milton, my own auto service looked the car over
and found the only darn thing they'd done was to
install a new battery cable.
Shreveport, Louisiana. The battery company I
asked to test the efficiency of my carburetor and igni-
tion had their exhaust analyzer set to register poor
Brooklyn, New York. My car was in the shop
when the story came out, so I was wary. I paid the
bill, $9.60, had it itemized, then consulted two other
212 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
mechanics. Both said the job had never been done
at all. In the end the big company the first man was
operating under made him return my money.
And many more automobile owners continue
this same theme with comments such as: "My
experience has paralleled this test for years."
. . . "I have found plenty of the things you have
This letter from a housewife indicates that re-
pairmen have something tangible to gain in offer-
ing honest service :
If repairmen would only realize that if they re-
duce their prices and provide honest work their trade
would increase substantially.
Were it not for experiences I have had, I would
take to the repair shop two watches, a drink mixer,
a radiant heater, a small radio. All have some small
defect, but my lean purse can't stand the cost of
repair plus the risk that the things probably won't
work very long after being fixed. So I put the articles
away on the shelf until that future date when I win
a soap contest and can afford to have everything
Now I'm just an ordinary consumer. I questioned
twenty of my friends about this matter. Every single
WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE? 213
one had at least two articles they were withholding
from repair for the same reason as I. A very general
comment was: "It's cheaper to buy a new one than
have the used one repaired."
Now multiply me and my friends by all the people
in the country who must have similar instances. The
repairmen would be snowed under with work if they
would prove to the customer that he can get efficient
work at a fair price.
Proof that the general idea is being put to
practical use continues to pour in from all parts
of the country. Says a Connecticut garageman:
"Dozens of customers have asked for their old
parts. They never did before." A Minnesota in-
structor in auto mechanics writes: "I am using
your set of rules to give to friends who ask my
advice about repairs on vacation treks." The
managing editor of a Pittsburgh newspaper says
that many car dealers, while upset by the first
article, had service departments put up signs:
"Used Parts Returned"; "Our Charges Are
An automotive editor in Detroit writes :
If you, in your story, did .nothing more for the
automobile business than to allow us, who live in this
214 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
business, to make use of your story to point out to
the average car dealer that there was money in ren-
dering proper service and treating their customers
right, your story was worth all of the time, effort,
and expense entailed in preparing it. The industry
should give you a universal vote of thanks for arous-
ing thousands of dealers out of the lethargy of self-
complacency caused by an over-prosperous car model
As the answer to "recent charges of racketeer-
ing in repair work" Consolidated Edison is con-
sidering a plan to- establish a separate company
which would handle the repair and maintenance
of electrical appliances, with standard prices and
supervised, tested, and certified work.
Not all agree with the substance of the stories.
From Chicago, Illinois:
For childish gullibility it seems to me the program
of your two infants is about tops. All through their
journey they advertise themselves as "suckers." Take
your car to the proper place, treat the mechanics
fairly, and act like you're not a sucker, even though
you may be one, and you'll find the average garage-
man as fair and square a man to deal with as the
WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE? 215
average in most other professions ... at least such
has been my experience.
A minister most interestingly writes from
I read with interest the article on dishonest ga-
ragemen with double interest, in fact, since my ex-
perience has been so different. I do not question the
fairness of your test nor the validity of the conclu-
sions, but I do question the adequacy of the seven
suggestions to meet the situation. For these sugges-
tions, when tried alone, are the very things to breed
the dishonesty which you are exposing.
I have driven well over a quarter of a million
miles. You can imagine that the get-out-and-get-
under command is an old one with me. But I am no
more mechanical than the proverbial woman and,
hence, am at the mercy of any and every garageman.
They have treated me regally, but not because I
have watched them, or asked them for itemized bills,
or the return of my used parts, but because they have
become friends. While a man is working on my car
I tell him about my family, he tells me about his. I
seldom reveal that I am a minister, because I despise
patronage on this account, but I find that nine times
out of ten the repairmen warm up to friendship.
2l6 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
It would be pretty small of a man to act friendly
in order to be treated white. But when a fellow
naturally sees in every garageman a friend and a
human being with dreams and hopes and fears like
other men, then the best and not the base in that man
comes to the surface. Suspicion breeds fear and an-
ger, and these. release the worst in a man. Friendship
draws out the finer qualities.
Of course there are exceptions. In downtown Bos-
ton snow plows walled me in with five-foot banks of
snow last winter. I paid $5.00 for a garageman who
took twenty minutes to tow me out. But the next time
I am in that section of the city I shall go in there to
buy some gas and pick up the conversation where we
left off. He may become my friend yet, and a re-
morseful conscience may begin to work, and possibly
some besnowed autoists will not be asked quite so
much next winter. Who knows ?
A few readers sat down and directed blasts
against us that were as wrathful as this one from
I find I've been gypped, brother, and in the worst
way. It took this malicious editorial on a sub-
ject with which I am thoroughly informed to open
my poor deluded eyes. I had not the remotest sus-
WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE? 217
picion that you were a bunch of communists who take
advantage of your position to publicly knock and
falsely create a mistrust of your fellow Americans.
What is the purpose of this wholly unsound and UN-
AMERICAN piece of BALLYHOO? Are you try-
ing to start a war of your own by insulting human
intelligence and good old AMERICAN integrity?
There are quite a few smart-alecks among us like
your investigators . . . they deserve a good gypping
that they, too, seldom get. I resent heartily and
healthily any poor misled mortal who spends his
worthless time in such unsound investigation.
On the other hand, here is a letter from Oak
Park, Illinois, which is more typical of the great
majority of the vast correspondence we are re-
ceiving concerning the repairman survey.
Congratulations. It is good to know that at last
someone is willing to champion the people's cause
against the "gyp" element of the business world.
Unwittingly these business people are bringing about
the kind of governmental restrictions on private en-
terprise which they all abhor. Perhaps your articles
will help them to clean up their own house, but at
any rate they will serve to show the people some of
2l8 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
the evils lurking behind the gaudy illuminated signs
of our respected business streets.
Cincinnati, Ohio. Since reading your "Will Gyp
You" articles we have turned into skeptical cus-
We had a smashed fender. A large repair shop
wanted $12.50. A smaller one did the job in a first*
class manner for $6.50.
A radio repairman insisted our car radio needed
a new speaker and a condenser at $12. An honest
fellow fixed it up for $1.30.
You saved us $16.70, here in Cincinnati. Thanks.
From Grand Rapids, Michigan, a minister
Recently many things you revealed in your radio
story were verified. Our Public Address System
needed repairs. One repairman was certain that the
transformer, tube, fuse, and perhaps a few con-
densers were burned out. His estimate was nothing
less than $10 nor more than $13.
When we heard this man talk, your article was
vividly recalled. It was your article that influenced
our decision, and we sought another repairman. The
WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE? 219
second repairman did the job for $4.58. Only a con-
denser was burned out. Thanks to you, we were not
New York. Our radio went bad. It was a big one,
but my husband loaded it into our car and took it
to a radio shop up beyond 2OOth Street. The man
took out all the eight tubes, tested them on his tube
tester, and said seven were bad. My husband said:
"If I hadn't read that story, I'd have bought those
seven tubes. But now I'll be darned if I will." Later
he had the tubes tested at Macy's. Only two were
bad. I bought two new tubes at seventy-five cents
each less than the radio shop wanted and it's
been playing fine ever since."
Cleveland, Ohio. That radio story saved me $7.70.
I've got an expensive portable, and it didn't play. I
took it to a shop here in Cleveland, and they wanted
$10 to fix it. Having read that story, and having sus-
picioned radio shops for a long time, I didn't leave
it. I remembered that the investigators had received
more honest treatment in small shops, so when I
passed through a little town on my vacation a couple
of weeks later I took my radio to a shop there. I
told them: "I ought to have had this radio fixed
220 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
in Cleveland, but I mistrusted the shop. I haven't
been in this town long, but I've heard you could be
trusted." When I picked up the radio on the way
back the bill was just $2.30.
Many readers went on to suggest other fields
which in their opinion could stand investigation.
A doctor in Honolulu writes :
Congratulations! Your cases could be multiplied
by the dozens among my friends. It is a most pleas-
ing trend of investigation. I wish to suggest that you
carry it further, including various types of doctors,
dentists, druggists, and beauty parlors. Maybe you
will scare some into being reasonably honest for a
Requests that we investigate doctors far out-
number all others. Says a Wyoming serviceman:
"Unfortunately we garagemen that make errors
must live with them or live them down. A doctor
buries his." Repeatedly we were asked to extend
our investigation into these fields among others :
Refrigeration repairmen men
Magazine editorial staffs Spiritualistic mediums
and writers Fur repair
Sewing-machine repair- Real estate
WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE? 221
Union labor Shoemakers
Auto finance Cake mixers
Hearing devices Bankers
A Minneapolis housewife writes in :
Your courage amazes me. Everyone knows we
are a nation of goats that resigns itself to its evil,
avoids repairs to the danger point, finally calls a re-
pairman and then moans. F'gosh sakes, expose
plumbers. They may be funny in cartoons, but I've
never seen the humor since I paid fifteen dollars to
have a sink raised seven inches.
Newspapers all over the country reprinted
the repairman stories, and dozens of them had
penetrating editorial comment to make on the
subject. Said the New York Times: "A shocking
lack of ethics in a number of garages and repair
stations in different sections of the country is
revealed performs a real service for motorists.
It might be suggested that fewer motorists would
be victimized if they knew a little more about
222 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
the workings of the cars they drive. Best of all
would be the spread of a little elementary hon-
esty to the repair stations which now lack it."
The Duluth News-Tribune commented:
"This muckraking of mechanical graft may have
a good effect, and it would be well for the two
trades attacked to do less howling and more
housecleaning. No auto or radio owner who has
had to have repairs made doubts that there is
much truth in the expose, but it should be re-
peated that the whole trade should not be spat-
tered with the mud that is thrown. Few lines of
business, taken as a whole, are even candidates
for, much less entitled to, halos."
An editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
said: "The . . . article, by calling attention to
the tricks employed, should help in putting the
public on the alert and also in discouraging the
cheats. It would be a valuable service, however,
if honest repairmen could contrive some means
of policing their industry. Automobile manu-
facturers also have a stake in trying to clean up
this situation, since the public's satisfaction or
dissatisfaction with their product depends to a
large extent on the mechanics who service it."
WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE? 223
From the Joplin, Missouri, Globe: "There are
honest automobile repairmen. Any number of
them. And the ones who are honest will be glad
to have the unscrupulous and dishonest members
of their craft castigated."
There have been some complaints from the
general public, many more from the men in the
trade, that the number of tests the investigators
made was "too absurdly small" to warrant such
sweeping conclusions. An advertising man in
Rosemont, Pennsylvania, says: "This is one of
the worst surveys I have ever seen only 347 out
of 200,000. How was the sampling made?" We
can assure him that repair shops were chosen
at random, just as they would be picked by any
stranger whose car suddenly breaks down and
who fears to drive it farther. And we might re-
mind him that Dr. Gallup can predict the politi-
cal heartbeat of 50,000,000 American voters by
feeling the pulse of what is, comparatively, an
even smaller sample. Critics of the survey might
note that no one in the United States has made
any other similar investigation or advanced any
other proved facts and figures in refutation. Dur-
ing the summer the Montreal Standard con-
224 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
ducted a similar investigation in Canadian ga-
rages. Of forty-two tested, twenty-two were
found to be gyps.
The ideal survey, of course, would have been
one that covered all of this country's repair shops.
Ours was admittedly a sampling. But indirectly
we are getting a wider and wider survey all the
time: through the comments of the American
motorists who have written by the hundreds,
through the letters of radio owners and of watch
owners. So overwhelmingly in our favor has been
the corroboratory evidence which they submit
that our original sampling of repair-shop ethics
takes on new and added significance as time
Many readers find it impossible to accept the
percentages of gyppery which the investigators
found. Some offer their own guesses. Here are
some in the case of the automobile survey, read-
ing from black to white :
Garageman in Yonkers, New
90 per cent York : Nine out of ten will gyp you
but not around here.
WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE? 225
Shop foreman in Mt. Kisco, New
80 per cent York: Conservative. It's four out
of every five.
, Car dealer in Sioux City. Iowa :
60 per cent
Three out of every nve.
Reader in Paoli, Pennsylvania:
37 per cent
Less than 37 per cent are dishonest.
Parts wholesaler, Beaver Falls,
i o per cent Pennsylvania: Not ten per cent in
our area overcharge.
Automotive editor, Detroit,
Michigan: Automobile mechanics
are a guileless, wholly honest class
If you don't like our figure of 63 per cent, here
are plenty of alternatives!
As a result of our experience, we advised car
owners to seek out small garages in little towns
for honest service. Several correspondents take
issue with that advice. Says a Philadelphian:
"The greasy mechanic with only a screw driver
and a pair of pliers is as outmoded on modern
cars as a witch doctor." To this we reply that
while honesty also seems outmoded, there is defi-
nitely more of it in the small shops.
226 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
Obviously, as many correspondents insist, "all
the crooks are not in the automobile business,"
or the radio business, or the watchmaking busi-
ness. Here are conditions which go deeper than
the competition or economics or temptations of
any particular trade. Over and over again read-
ers ask : "What would similar surveys reveal in
other lines of business?" A standard of business
ethics, one fears, which is low compared with the
standards of American efficiency, ingenuity, and
enterprise. "The people of our country," said the
Sioux City (Iowa) Unionist, "have got to be
honest or America is all washed up."
I READ YOUR ARTICLE in the Reader's Digest. Very,
Very Good and LOUSY.
If you would give me the honor of visiting me
for about two minutes I'll ask you one question that
would stop you before you could open your mouth.
A RADIO SERVICEMAN
Brooklyn, N. Y.
When first news of our survey appeared the
men in the trade were quick to respond in wrath-
228 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
ful chorus. Unprecedented volumes of mail
raised the cry of "false . . . misleading . . .
cowardly . . . cruel . . . savage . . . Commu-
nistic." Burning with indignation, repairmen by
the hundreds gave vent to their feelings via the
mails. Some correspondent's admit conditions
exist just as described in the original story. Many
have submitted thoughtful, well-written manu-
scripts defending the repairman. But many more
confine themselves to scathing denunciation of
the articles, the survey, the author, the investi-
gators, their methods, their conclusions. Here
are a few of the brickbats the men in the trade
heaved at us :
Gary, Indiana. It seems impossible that any auto-
mobile repairman could escape the permanently dam-
aging influences of your adroitly supported propa-
. . . Even Christ found this dishonest fraction
among his disciples and there were only twelve
We know from some twenty-five years of constant
business contact with automotive servicemen that
they are rather heroically inclined toward kindly
and conscientious service.
TRADE REACTIONS 229
From the editor of a used-car magazine: Our
20,000 dealer readers greatly resent the vitupera-
tive attack and consider it without parallel the
snidest, most vicious, and unfairest type of journal-
St. Paul, Minnesota. The article is ridiculously
false and unfounded. It is poorly written by a man
who obviously knows very little about automobiles
or service. I demand a full retraction at once.
Norfolk, Virginia. Just as scurrilous as it can be.
I wonder if there is not some propaganda purpose
behind this article to destroy public confidence in
the largest industry.
New York City. The Riis investigators went
about with fraudulent intent and an attitude that
rendered their whole galloping polling escapade ut-
terly worthless, just a piece of dirt.
Outremont, Quebec. We are trying to do our best
to stop delivery of your magazine in the province
of Quebec, because you seem to be a bunch of liars
worse than all the garages that you said you con-
. . . Your John Patric and Lioy May were unable
to make deductions on anything. They merely took
230 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
information but never traveled the mileage you state,
and therefore I call you lousy liars trying to educate
people on something you do not know yourself.
The mass tirade continues in such terms : "in-
famous . . . conceived in iniquity and born in
sin . . . vicious . . . amateurish resort to cheap
trickery . . . apparently deliberate misstate-
ment of facts . . . idle, unfounded statements of
some literary Quisling . . . horse thief. . . ."
Some men in the trade temper their blasts with
a more coherent defense of the repairman :
Bradford, New Hampshire. Everyone wants his
car about ten minutes before it gets to the shop.
Some of the jobs have been "stinkers." The me-
chanic has skinned his knuckles, burned his arms,
smacked his head on something, and everything in
general seems to be going wrong. Do you assume
that the mechanics can always think straight after
having been through such a session? Hell ! I've pulled
some boners that were pips, and I blush when I think
of them, but the customers have also pulled some
beauts. Your investigators were dishonestly trying
to find dishonest repairmen and apparently found
what they were seeking, or did they? Perhaps the
mechanics were not all being dishonest deliberately.
TRADE REACTIONS 231
One Kalamazoo, Michigan, car dealer writes
that our article has brought him "some nice
business," but that at the same time he is "a little
I could write an article longer than yours telling
how the public try to gyp me and how they have
gypped me. I can tell you where preachers have
lied about the appraisals of their cars. I can show
you many cases where the public will get an ap-
praisal on their car and then go home and remove
and exchange equipment. But what business in the
U.S.A. has rendered more free service than garage
and service stations? Who pays for all this free air,
water, battery service, clean toilets, information,
taxi service, call for and deliver work, and all the
free checking, estimates, prices, etc., that the garage-
Vancouver, British Columbia. Our hats are off to
those artful, suave, and cynical investigators who
have so cleverly tricked some 63 per cent of the
country's comparatively poorest paid, skilled trades-
men into a dishonest admission.
. . . The modern motorist, who kills 34,000
people each year, sends triple that many to the hos-
pitals, does hundreds of thousands of dollars of dam-
232 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
age, who curses every policeman who watches him,
expects every poor sucker who lifts his hood, fills his
battery, airs his tires, wipes his windshield, and a
dozen other so-called free services, to say, "Dat's
all right, I just can't make no charge. I am an honest
mechanic; I live on hot air."
Mr. Milton Benz, of Rochester, New York,
expands upon this same theme of the customer
being the gyp in an eloquent defense of the
. . . The American driver, in my experience, con-
siders chiseling the serviceman in the same category
as keeping fouled baseballs. He will misrepresent the
condition of his car, demand as much extra service
as the traffic will bear, and after an estimate is made
will try to lump in a few more bits of work for the
same price. He wants his battery checked, his igni-
tion checked, his front end checked, his joints, trans-
mission, clutch, and differential checked, rattles
sought out, tagged, and enumerated, all for free.
. . . He considers a garage mid-Victorian if it
isn't equipped with one of these so-called Rube Gold-
berg affairs. He expects the owner to provide grind-
stones, electric drills, tools, fifty-ton presses, brake
TRADE REACTIONS 233
machines, lathes, hydraulic jacks, and free advice.
Sometimes he even expects to work on his own car in
the service station. If he is charged two dollars for
a fifteen-minute operation, he is outraged, ignoring
the fact that the operation might involve several
hundred dollars' worth of tools and machinery.
Let us examine this creature further. He demands
that he be told exactly what a clutch job will cost.
That leaves two alternatives: The serviceman can
quote the maximum cost of replacement to include
a new pressure plate, throwout bearing, driven plate,
and clutch pilot bearing. This usually covers the
serviceman but loses the customer, due to apoplexy.
Or else he can quote the average cost and hope to
hell he comes out on top.
Let us assume that we have put in a clutch and
the customer sourly admits that it is all right. The
next day he returns and demands to know what we
did to it to break his rear spring. We mildly assure
him that we did nothing to it. Well, we must have
dropped it down too hard and broken it. We con-
vince him that it was not possible to do this, and he
grudgingly allows us to repair it but suggests that
we ought to do it for half price. We, with fine pa-
tience, refuse and are classed with Hitler.
The gyp customer will do his best to get you
234 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
wittingly or unwittingly to condemn the work of
another garageman who may be your best friend
and the best mechanic alive. If you do this, he runs
over two dogs and a cat getting the knock back to
the aforementioned best friend and mechanic. If you
say that the job needed a special gauge, jig, or tool,
the story is translated to wit: "You haven't the
equipment either mentally or physically to repair a
roller skate, and your friend down the line says so
and you're a crook to boot." It takes us six months
to get our best friend back to the point where he
will buy a gasket from us if he can't get one some-
Altogether it is a matter of dog eat dog with the
customer taking the first bite and getting the bigger
bites. I can prove that by statistics. More garage-
men starve to death than customers.
Our investigation of repairmen was naturally
based upon the premise that all men are honest;
that was why the results of the survey make such
startling news, both for us and for the public.
But many letter-writers take us to task for the
emphasis we put on the dishonesty which the in-
vestigations uncovered. Says one correspondent:
"Considering all the facts, I don't think your
TRADE REACTIONS 235
investigator should complain that three fifths of
all mechanics are dishonest. Rather, he should
exclaim, 'Thank God, two fifths of all mechanics
are honest!' "
In the face of critical comment such as that
described in the previous pages it is surprising
indeed to find that there are many men in the
trade who not only have refrained from attacking
our findings but readily admit that conditions are
just about that bad. Says one in DeQueen, Ar-
kansas: "I know just how true this article is,
being a garageman myself." From another, in
Earlville, Illinois : "We'd like every one of our
customers to read the article." From another in
Santa Fe, New Mexico: "I am a second genera-
tion auto repairman. I'm not upset by your find-
ings. They will make things tough for the honest
repairman for a while but in the long run he
will benefit. More power to you!"
A Chicago watchmaker writes as follows:
"The story on watch repairmen is most interest-
ing. Mr. Riis's poll of watchmakers reveals a
condition which needs airing. I would say that he
understates the case."
Shortly after the appearance of the first repair-
236 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
man story, a number of garagemen in one region
were questioned; of seventy-eight who had a
definite opinion, sixty-seven agreed with the sub-
stance of the article.
Additional evidence pours in from men in the
trade who have seen gyppery done. Some confess
having done it themselves in moderation. "The
most I'd ever try to overcharge," says one,
"would be $4.00 or $5.00 none of this $23 the
The manager of a filling station in Bennington,
Vermont, remarks: "I worked in a New York
City station to get the latest ideas on service but
soon came home. If I tried up here the stunts
they pull in New York, my customers would
Says a shop owner in Athol, Massachusetts:
"In a big garage where I used to work we had a
fellow who, when a car came in with engine
trouble, always put on a new coil first thing. Got
to be a joke. When a car drove in and this guy
began working on it we'd yell to the parts man :
'Get out another coil!' I don't know how many
hundred coils that fellow sold to people who
didn't need them."
TRADE REACTIONS 237
That the authors have attempted to make the
tone of their stories a constructive one was recog-
nized by many repairmen. A Sioux City, Iowa,
auto dealer writes that in his opinion the article
underestimated the percentage of dishonest ga-
ragemen, saying: "The activities of these un-
scrupulous operators should be curtailed, and the
more publicity given to this condition the harder
it would be for them to apply their shady prac-
tices. I am writing this letter to congratulate
A letter from Hagarstown, Indiana, says : "We
have certainly never doubted the results of your
survey. We think it quite timely and one that will
provoke much constructive thinking among not
only car owners but dealers throughout the coun-
try. I notice that a number of the trade papers
are up in arms over the article and are condemn-
ing your methods in a most ridiculous manner."
Says a Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, garage-
man: "The expose should have a salutary effect
on every garage operator."
A garage manager in Onawa, Iowa, reacted
promptly to our findings. "At my next personnel
meeting I am reading aloud the article in the
238 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
July issue of the Digest and presenting each of
my employees with a check, hoping that this will
help them to realize that the public respects an
Critics in the trade have swarmed all over the
authors' original statements concerning the
adaptability of Rube Goldberg machines for
crooked dealing. Typical comments : "The mod-
ern automobile or radio cannot be serviced with-
out these scientific, fact-finding tools. As neces-
sary to mechanics as X ray to medicine." But
even manufacturers carefully temper their de-
fense with admissions that some of this equip-
ment is not what it should be; and in dishonest
hands any of it can be used to gyp the customer.
Says a Chicago manufacturer of legitimate
We realize that along with the manufacture of
Rube Goldberg equipment there have been devices
placed on the market which were far from perfect
and also that some of this equipment has been used
by unscrupulous operators to gyp the customers, but
we realize also that although not entirely free from
blame, repairmen in general have no monopoly on
TRADE REACTIONS 239
Many mechanics agree that "the public has
been led to demand Rube Goldbergs; it thinks
we're old-fashioned without them. Some of the
testing devices are necessary, but the fancy cabi-
nets are not!' Conclusion : If Rube Goldbergs are
good diagnosticians, they are also super-sales-
men, and only as helpful, efficient, and honest as
the men who operate them.
The survey method which our investigators
used has been bitterly attacked by the repairmen.
"A baited trap," one serviceman calls it. "Few
mechanics know the Lincoln Zephyr; thus the
findings are distorted," says a Detroit dealer, and
others join him in objecting to the use of "a car
with which repairmen are least familiar." But
we found that the "inexperienced" rural me-
chanics usually spotted the trouble instantly and
made no charge; the mechanics of swanky Mi-
ami and Hollywood, where the Zephyr is com-
moner, were the ones who failed to pass the test.
Indeed some repairmen take just the opposite
view: that the test was too simple. One Council
Bluffs (Iowa) garageman thinks that the survey
was "very unfair" but says : "You run around the
country with a trouble so simple to locate that
240 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
colored car washers, shade-tree mechanics, or
anyone could not help but find it. . . ."
Throughout there is a human tendency to
blame the other fellow. Usually the independent
repairmen blame the large concerns: "They've
got to pay for that overhead somehow." The big
dealers say, "Look out for the independents,
they're all fly-by-nights." Here is sad testimony
from the trade: a garageman in Hoboken, New
Jersey: "Mechanics haven't been making any-
thing for several years, so now they're trying
to get what they think is coming to them."
An Illinois radioman: "The radio mechanic
is more often underpaid than any other type of
skilled laborer. No one will pay a large sum to
fix an inexpensive radio. Hence every job must
bring in some money or the serviceman will cease
to exist. Even a loose wire should be charged for
(at a reasonable minimum charge)."
An Albany, New York, repairman says:
"Most of us garages feel that we've got to try to
sell the customer everything we can get him to
A Massachusetts mechanic, describing a large
shop he has just left : "We had a helluva over-
TRADE REACTIONS 241
head. We had quotas to make on oil and lube
jobs. In the shop we had to turn out a certain
dollar volume every week. And so if we were low
and it was easy to slip an extra coil on the bill,
we did it."
We agreed that repairmen have a point when
they say that their time and the benefit of their
experience are valuable and worth something in
even the smallest cases. But they are worth some-
thing only when the repairman tells the truth
and the whole truth. And if these reactions of the
trade prove nothing else, they prove that the
customer, too, must treat his repairman as
squarely as he expects to be treated himself.
Here's what a small garage owner in Michigan
has to say on that subject:
. . . Then there was the first snowfall. I am not
poetic, but I always remember the first snowfall. We
have one every year. You pull cars out from 10 P.M.
until 7 A.M. They are always just off the road. I have
never found a motorist who honestly admitted that
he needed a wrecker. There may be but three inches
of windshield showing above the mud, but all he
needs is a little push. They didn't expect any trouble,
so they didn't bring any money. However, they have
242 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
a cousin in Sandusky who knows my uncle in
Pewamo, so they're sure you won't mind. Watch
out, little garageman, the average motorist will gyp
you if you don't watch out !
Metropolitan Dependable as Hartor Ligkt"
1775 Hartor Avenue
Pkone MAritime 1932
Lipy May, 1623 Walnut Street
Members United States Horological Society :: Honest Workmanship
Overhaul Hamilton Watoh 9.00
Sales tax on parts used .12
10 Magazine Excerpts
From Motor Age
... A savage, cruel, skimpily supported attack
on the entire automobile service and repair trade
of the United States. It is a verbal blitzkreig with no
more than Hitlerian justification. In fact, to vindi-
cate his depredations, Hitler has sometimes offered
pseudo-reasoning which sounded more logical than
that offered to give seeming substance to this sad
attempt at sensationalism.
. . . The false impression is created that a large
244 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
majority of those in the service business are not much
if any better than thieves and robbers. To put it
more mildly, their moral sense is warped. Their
ethical standards are as low as the ankles of a flat-
. . . The male investigator and his female secre-
tary had a trick which they played. They baited a
trap in which to catch their prey. They made a dis-
honest approach in their search for the honest
serviceman. Or were they, in reality, assiduously
seeking out the few dishonest ones to prove a pre-
viously made assumption? Diogenes with his lighted
lantern was not a member of their party.
Before pulling up at a service station they slyly
and surreptitiously detached a wire from one of the
coils. The male investigator got out and hid or ran
away and left his female secretary to drive the limp-
ing automobile up to the haven of unholy hope and
expectation, pretending that she didn't know what
was the matter with the car. The lady's written re-
ports of what followed give reason to believe that
some, at least, of those who are charged with dis-
honesty got a preliminary whiff of an aromatic rat
and decided to turn the would-be crook catcher into
a landed sucker. How else can we account for such
a diagnosis as, "Lady, your manifold is gone"?
MAGAZINE EXCERPTS 245
. . . The total number of possible calls in such
an investigation is, therefore, more than 100,000.
The Reader's Digest investigators called on and
"tested" 347 out of a possible 100,000 plus, or about
three tenths of one per cent and then applied their
scanty, knotty, worm-eaten stuff to the building of
an ill-shaped and shaky conclusion. . . .
Copyright, 1941, by Motor Age.
From Consumers Union Reports, October
. . . Persons familiar with the operation and
servicing of radios have been aware of the frauds
involved in radio repairing for some time; the gen-
eral public has only suspected them. Now that the
facts are out, various radio-service magazines are
busily offering apologies on one hand and inventing
flaws in the investigators* methods on the other.
Consumers need have no doubts, however, that
the facts and implications of the Reader's Digest
article are substantially correct. The investigators
seem justified in concluding that you run most chance
of getting gypped in large cities and are most likely
to get a fair deal in small towns where the service-
man must be more careful of his reputation.
The answer to the question: "Why is there so
much deception and gypping in radio repairing?"
246 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
is certainly, in part, that there are too many service-
men for the market to support. Requirements for
going into the business are simple: more or less
knowledge of radios and a table to work on. The re-
sults: a terrific surplus of servicemen both bona
fide and tinkerers and almost an economic com-
pulsion for repairmen to overcharge on each job.
Moreover, a customer will often consider that after
having his set fixed once, he is entitled to free repairs
if anything else goes wrong. Thus the repairman
overcharges partly to cover such nuisance service
From Lehigh Valley Motor Club News, Sep-
FACTS SHOW MOST MOTOR SERVICEMEN HONEST
With only 218 out of over 200,000 automobile
service and repairmen proved by a Reader's Digest
survey to be dishonest the motoring public feels more
confident than ever that the men who are in business
to keep America in motor transportation can be
trusted. The facts furnish a splendid tribute to the
men engaged in a difficult business.
In its widely criticized article the Digest attempted
to prove that, because only 129 out of 347 repair-
men failed to fall for a trick, three out of five times
a motorist stops for service at strange shops he will
MAGAZINE EXCERPTS 247
be gypped. As Automotive News, mouthpiece of the
auto industry, points out: this is "like picking one
bad apple out of a barrel and condemning the whole
barrel as being rotten."
Careful observers note that it is not necessary for
motorists, even in touring, to frequent strange re-
pair shops. Car manufacturers have their officially
appointed service stations everywhere. In addition^
many well-known products are nationally repre-
sented. One of the best guides is the A.A.A. emblem
of the American Automobile Association, approved
shops which must render efficient and honest service
to over a million organized motorists. . . .
From a column in Jobber Topics, August 1941 .
Some of the attempts at rebuttal to the Reader's
Digest blast were pathetic. Let's not kid ourselves.
But so far -as the public is concerned, the less said,
the better. People forget quickly. . . .
Copyright, 1941, by the Irving-Cloud Publishing Co.
From Automotive News, the newspaper of the
industry, July 14, 1941.
GYP STORY ROLLS ON
There's an old saying that you can't tell how far
a cat will jump by the length of its tail. The same
248 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
can be said about the story that appeared in the July
issue of Reader's Digest, which castigated automo-
tive service shops by making a flat statement that
three out of five garages were dishonest in their deal-
ings with car owners.
Now to our desk come copies of the New York
Times, Detroit News, and the Milwaukee Journal,
all carrying rewrites of this now well-known Gyp
story. In addition to the rewrites in the Detroit
papers was a story stating that one of the Detroit
City Fathers had proposed to the common council
an ordinance that would legislate the crooked ser-
vice station out of business.
All this because one writer called on 347 garages
scattered from coast to coast and found that only
169 \_Qur figure was 129 the authors.] diagnosed
his trouble correctly. An entire industry with over
200,000 service outlets is being crucified in public
print because of the experiences collected in 347
Dealers are yelling for somebody to prove this
story a fake.
Who has bona fide figures to show if the per-
centage of garages claimed do or do not overcharge
their customers ? We know that we don't have them,
nor do the car manufacturers have them. We doubt
MAGAZINE EXCERPTS 249
very much if anyone could possibly get accurate fig-
ures to show if and how much deliberate dishonesty
was running rampant in the service field.
Nor do we feel that it would be possible to find
how much unintentional dishonesty was practiced
because service managers and mechanics diagnosed
We do know, however, that hundreds of dealers
do not provide their service managers with sufficient
incentive to increase the dealer's service-customer
following; we know that other hundreds seldom, if
ever, check on the operation of their service depart-
ment to see if it is giving efficient service and is
manned by mechanics who are experienced and actu-
ally know their business.
The cat has jumped its tail was short but evi-
dently has fanned a smoldering fire. Maybe the print-
ing of this Gyp story, while it may destroy the con-
fidence that thousands of owners might have had
in the honesty and fair dealing of their service
source, will in the long run have a very beneficial
effect upon dealer service by causing hundreds or
thousands of dealers to check up on the type of
service their shop is rendering and see if they are
unwittingly overcharging or cheating their best cus-
tomers owners of the cars they sell.
1 1 Aftermaths
4 *1000.00 REWARD
RIIS & PATRIC
THE AMERICAN AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY is per-
haps the ablest single industry in the country, an
industry packed with keen, intelligent men. So
it is strange that their reaction to the serious
statements we made about them was so uncom-
Those mechanics we talked to admitted, in
conversation, that we were quite right, or, rather,
86 per cent of them did. But of all the hostile re-
actions we found only half a dozen really intelli-
gent ones, and of those, two stand out, one from a
car manufacturer, one from a trade magazine.
Only one motorcar manufacturer sent his rep-
resentative to discuss the situation with us. Sev-
eral others wrote commendatory letters or broad-
cast among their dealers reprints of the magazine
article. But just the single manufacturer thought
it well to dig further into the subject as it affected
his own large national network of dealers. His
public-relations man came to New York, from
Detroit, to inquire whether our research tour had
visited any of his company's local dealers, and, if
so, what the results had been. It is perhaps a com-
mentary on this company's attitude that, on going
over the reports, we found we had covered a few
of his dealers, and that they had all measured up
to the best in the field.
The representative of one big oil company in-
vited us to his motor proving station to witness
the most gigantic of all Rube Goldbergs in ac-
tion. We accepted the invitation and had our
own old car tested on his machine. The situation
was hardly covered by our original statements
about the Goldberg machines, because this one
REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
was not being used to merchandise repair work,
it was being used purely as a good-will proposi-
tion to influence motorists to use a special brand
of gas. There was no possibility of gypping the
public even if the operators of the machine had
wanted to, which they palpably did not.
And one single trade magazine came to see us
and investigate us. Therein lies matter for real
wonder, that the press of America's most alert in-
dustry was so markedly not alert itself. As a point
of fact, the job that we did should have been
done long before 'by a trade magazine. Instead,
however, these magazines contented themselves
with sundry forms of denial of our statements
and abuse of us.
The single editor who called upon us said that
he wanted to see what kind of people we were
and photograph us so that he could show his
readers what kind of people we looked like. Well
and good. In his commentary on our charges he
went as far toward reason and intelligent discus-
sion as he could. But even he refused point-blank
to photograph our impressive table covered with
parts improperly or allegedly removed from our
test car. He gave no reason for his refusal, but the
fact is that a photograph of that table is damag-
ing factual evidence in our favor.
One leading motor magazine the only one
which refused permission to reprint its comment
went through astonishing contortions to prove
our survey all wrong.
The editor related how, a year previously, he
had installed in his own car a badly burned valve
and had taken that car to fourteen garages for
diagnosis. The valve, which he keeps in his desk,
was badly burned so that it needed replacement.
Yet, he said, not a single one of those garages
made any effort to sell him the valve job that his
car really required. When Riis suggested to him
that this was strange evidence of the competence
of those garages, he replied that it showed they
were too honest, so honest they didn't even sell
the customer what they should sell him.
One of the strange statements made by these
editors ran to this effect: "It was instantly obvi-
ous to the mechanics you tested that they were
being tested. They spotted the unusual job as a
test proposition and therefore, naturally, they
set out to rook you. That follows irresistibly."
Maybe it does, though it is wholly beyond nor-
254 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
mal comprehension; does a man always, inevi-
tably, lie and cheat when he knows he is being
This magazine collected itself for a blast
against our original article and emitted it in the
form of a large, boxed offer of $1,000 reward,
apparently for proof of the truth of our article.
It left the intended impression that the maga-
zine would pay anyone $1,000 who could prove
that Messrs. Patric and Riis hadn't lied.
When we wrote the editor, asking for details
and specifications so that we could attempt to
win that thousand dollars, the editor replied that
he was pretty busy with the next issue.
How much more intelligent was the act of the
authorized dealers in several cities like San
Francisco and Hartford, in uniting in full-page
newspaper advertisements reading like this :
YES, READER'S DIGEST, WE HAVE
READ YOUR ARTICLE THAT IN SAN
FRANCISCO "GYPS" PREDOMINATE 62
TO 20. ... MR. AUTO OWNER,
THAT'S WHY YOU SHOULD TAKE
YOUR CAR HOME FOR SERVICE TO
YOUR RESPONSIBLE DEALER.
If ever the motorcar owner had good reason to
look for authorized dealer service, authorized parts,
in the care of his proudly possessed automobile, the
Reader's Digest has pointed out How and Why!
In one of the most widely talked of articles writ-
ten about the service trades in years there is men-
tioned among other things that in San Francisco
"the gyps predominate 62 to 20."
It is a source of pride to every one of us motorcar
dealers and distributors who sign this statement that
"no new car-dealer service departments were men-
tioned as such."
Be assured that we guarantee you, at all times:
1. Expert diagnosis of any of your car troubles.
2. Expert mechanical work.
3. Authorized replacement parts.
4. Minimum and predetermined costs.
5. A square deal.
Part of your obligations in the nation's defense
program is to drive safely. To fulfill that obligation,
keep your car in safe running condition. Come to us
for the service work you and your car need.
WE ARE DETERMINED THAT YOU SHALL
RECEIVE A SQUARE DEAL
There follows a list of fifteen participating
256 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
Radio Today was the only radio publication,
so far as we could see, which took the attitude:
These charges are pretty severe, probably too
severe, but what is there we can do about them,
how can we improve conditions within our in-
dustry? We quote from this magazine's editorial
. . . Out of the survey conducted by the Reader's
Digest, however, come some excellent lessons for
responsible servicemen in methods of dealing with
customers, so that any appearance of unethical con-
duct may be avoided in the minds of laymen. Cus-
tomers do not understand the complicated processes
through which servicemen arrive at their diagnosis
and so are likely to misunderstand even the most in-
telligent safeguarding of the customer's interests.
An unforgivable fault reported from some service-
men in the Reader's Digest survey was that of charg-
ing for parts not actually put into the sets, or for
services not rendered. Certainly there is no excuse
for methods of this kind and no necessity. Above all,
it isn't necessary to pad the bill with phony charges
if the serviceman will explain the just and reasonable
charges that should be made for the work he has
. . . To sum up the whole situation, do an honest
job, sell the things that are needed, and get a fair
price for your work. Your weapons against the
charge of being a "gyp" are these :
1. Your reputation as a local businessman.
2. Your membership in a local service organiza-
tion which guarantees the work of its mem-
3. Your methods of doing business itemized
bills, guaranteed workmanship, etc.
It would be foolish to state that there are no
"chiselers" in radio or any other particular business.
However, Radio Today feels certain that the per-
centage in the radio service field is very, very much
less than the percentage arrived at in the article
One of the constant statements thrown back at
us was this: "Ah, but there are 200,000 service
stations, and you tested only a few hundred;
that's far too small a percentage." Maybe so ; but
there are seventy-two radio and trade publi-
cations in the United States, and we can test all
of them by their response to these articles. In our
opinion only three of them, or 4 per cent, reacted
intelligently. Angry recrimination is not an in-
258 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
The watch trade was less embittered, more re-
ceptive, so far as its press revealed.
From the Hamilton Traveler, November
Well it finally happened.
Along with its exposure of "gyppery" in auto-
mobile and radio repair service the Reader's Digest
finally got around to the watchmaker in its Septem-
ber issue. Of several hundred watchmakers investi-
gated, it was found that 49 out of 100 sought to
take advantage of the customer's lack of watch
knowledge by overcharging him or by doing a lot
of unnecessary work. The fact that this compares
with a total of 63 "gyps" out of every 100 auto-
mobile repairmen investigated, and with 64 out of
every 100 radio technicians, is small consolation.
A study of all three Reader's Digest articles,
however, would seem to indicate something more
than outright dishonesty on the part of many of the
repairmen involved. It indicates that many of them
fell back on dishonest excuses simply because they
were poor businessmen and didn't have the ability
to charge the customer what they thought the job
was really worth. Instead of making the minor ad-
justments which were asked for by the Digest in-
vestigators, then charging a minimum fee to which
they were entitled, they lied to the customer. . . .
Just as there is no excuse for "gyppery," so there is
no excuse for pussyfooting on the matter of fair
. . . Actually, the Reader's Digest is to be con-
gratulated upon its investigation. No honest watch-
maker has the slightest reason to be upset about it.
Watches still need service. People aren't going to
quit patronizing watchmakers because of this or any
other article. They're simply going to be more par-
ticular where they go.
Any way you look at it, this is a real break for
the square shooter who does good work at fair
prices and who knows how to merchandise his facil-
ities to the public in a way that gains their con-
Copyright, 1941, Hamilton Watch Co.
From the Jewelers' Circular-Keystone, Sep-
... If the editors expected us to rush to the
defense of the entire watch-repairing craft with a
claim that practically every watchmaker is a high-
grade reputable craftsman whose integrity and abil-
ity are above reproach, in the way that radio and
automotive papers took up the cudgels when the
Reader's Digest published similar reports covering
260 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
those fields, they are going to be greatly surprised.
We heartily subscribe to the general conclusion set
forth and only regret that the article didn't give a
little more information as to the details of conduct-
ing the investigation and a little better advice on
how to detect and avoid the gyp.
No one who has the least acquaintance with the
watch-repair field will deny that it is infested with
a substantial number of repairmen who are either
dishonest or incompetent, or both.
. . . No one is more keenly aware of, or more
eager to improve, the deplorable conditions in the
watch-repair business than the watchmakers them-
selves. That they have not had greater success is no
fault of theirs. In state after state watchmakers'
associations have striven for legislation that would
require examination and licensing, and in state after
state, with the exception of Wisconsin, Indiana, and
Oregon, have the public's legislators turned a deaf
or hostile ear.
... If the Reader's Digest article helps, as we
hope it will, to awaken the public to the need for
regulation and enlists public support of the drive
for examination and licensing, the fraternity of hon-
orable watchmakers will owe them a sincere vote
12 Doctors and Lawyers
WHATEVER IS WRONG WITH </OU
YOUR EYES MIGHT BE THE CAUSE
LET OS CHECK THEM TQ-OAY..
IN THE IMMENSE FLOOD of correspondence
which poured into Pleasantville after publica-
tion of the garage repairman story one idea
recurred so many times that it deserves comment.
That idea was, in essence :
"Why pick on us mechanics? There are crooks
in every line of business. Why not take the law-
yers, but especially why not the doctors? Doctors
must be crooks or they would not have to conceal
their prescriptions in Latin."
262 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
The repeated reference to doctors is certainly
evidence of a prevailing feeling in the American
people that our doctors are not all they should
be. That is possible ; but neither are authors, or
even publishers. Aside from the merit or demerit
of the charge against doctors there is one excel-
lent reason why no similar survey of the medi-
cal ranks can be made.
The first essential in this type of investigation
is to present a clear-cut, neat problem to the
group being investigated. It is much like exam-
ining a class in school. If it is mathematics, you
ask the members of the class specific mathemati-
cal questions, as, for example: "How much is
eleven times eleven?" Only one answer is cor-
rect. If it is history, you ask mostly questions
capable of definite answers, such as the date of
the Punic Wars, or the course of events leading
to the Treaty of Ghent.
We were at great pains to evolve that type of
clear-cut problem to present to the repairmen in
each field. We found early in the job that we
could not take a car to a garage and say, "What
do you recommend doing to this car?" We had to
offer them a simple, compact, open-and-shut
DOCTORS AND LAWYERS 263
problem, and that is what we did when we took
to them the car with the wire off the coil. That is
what we did with the radio and its loose tube and
the typewriter with its unhooked carriage or
loosened platen, and the watch with its loosened
But you can hardly do that in the medical
field. There is too much legitimate room for
differing interpretations of human ailments and
different diagnoses and prescriptions. It is not
easy to find an absolute for the investigators to
fall back on. Suppose I go to ten doctors and say
that I have a pain in my stomach ; I could not
blame the ten for ten different prescriptions.
Maybe, even if I have no stomach pain, I do need
the rest or the laxative or the changed diet they
might invariably prescribe. There might emerge
interesting facts as to the fees charged, but they
are facts which we all know now.
Four years ago Riis touched on the medical
field in an investigation of optometry throughout
the United States. It happened that a member of
his family had an ulcer on the eye, and in her
anxiety and trouble she was consulting medical
eye specialists up and down the East coast. At
264 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
that moment Riis saw a big painted sign in the
window of an optometrist's store reading to the
effect that whatever was wrong with you, your
eyes might be the cause, and spectacles might
cure it. It struck him as strange that when the
nation's greatest specialists were struggling over
a problem the proprietor of a street-front store
had so glib an answer.
So he sent a cavalcade throughout the United
States, having their eyes tested in optometric
shops of all kinds. The work inevitably brought
him in touch with the medical men too; and
while the results convinced him that the optome-
trists had much to regret, they also convinced this
writer that the medical men were at fault in stay-
ing contentedly in their ivory towers and not
crusading for better health services. Yes, the
doctors have faults.
A voracious investigator, eager for punish-
ment, might survey the different fields of medi-
cine by devising some mild ailment and taking
it to a hundred M.D.s, a hundred osteopathic
physicians, a hundred allopaths, homeopaths,
mental healers, and what have you. There is no
reason to believe that, if he were still healthy at
DOCTORS AND LAWYERS 265
the conclusion of his research, he would have any
more knowledge than we all now have. There
are good doctors and bad doctors in all types of
healing, but you can never "expose" them by
statistics. By and large, I believe they do as well
as they can as idealistically as they can, with
much more conscience than our friends in the
Because of the necessity in these days for all of
us to make our old household machines function
a year or two longer than usual, we confined our
survey to the repairmen of various industries.
Doctors are not really repairmen, except in the
broad sense intended by a clergyman who asked
Riis to come and lecture to his church on the
question : "Do the ministers, as spiritual repair-
men, gyp their customers by dishonest soul re-
pair?" Neither are lawyers to be classed as re-
pairmen. A survey of the type of lawyers who
frequent the municipal courts of our big cities
would, probably, if properly "tested," reveal
markedly anti-civic practices, but how are you
going to test them? It is worth speculating about.
This writer has sat on many juries and wasted
time on trivial cases which should never have
266 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
come to court at all, and only did come to court
because two sets of second-rate lawyers were hap-
pily opposing each other and profiting by the
opposition. But how to investigate them? One
could hardly devise an imaginary case and take
it to lawyers for their handling.
Mention is made here of the doctors and the
lawyers simply because the garagemen, in their
counterfire, aimed so many shots in the direc-
tion of those two professions. To repairmen who
attempted to cover their retreat by that tactic
we replied that they might be right, but that it is
no defense of the repairmen to say that other call-
ings contained dishonest practitioners too. If I
am hauled into court charged with assault and
battery, it is not a successful defense for me to
say "Yes, but look at Mr. Z., he killed a man." It
would be, in fact, an admission of my guilt in
the charge of assault and battery. So, with the
garagemen, their attempt to pass the charge
along to the doctors and lawyers was an actual
admission of their own guilt as mechanics.
AT THIS POINT we may be permitted a little gen-
eral theorizing. Unquestionably the repairmen
we tested showed a large amount of either dis-
honesty or incompetence. The investigators' odys-
sey yielded a total of 1,374 clear-cut tests ; in only
601 of these did the repairmen come through
with a clean slate. Why should there be any dis-
honesty or incompetence in these businesses?
Two facts emerge. The men who cheated did
268 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
so because of economic pressure. Either they are
underpaid, as mechanics, or they labor under
high costs and heavy taxes, as owners. Secondly,
the investigators were strangers to them. Often
obviously strangers in the community, and the
stranger has been from time immemorial fair
That factor is important. Dishonestyprevailed
in the big cities for the same reason, which basi-
cally is the element of anonymity. If the other
man doesn't know you, and if you don't know
him, and you never expect to meet again, you
are more inclined to cheat him than if he is a
neighbor. Immigrants to the United States long
illustrated the same truth : until they settled in
communities and obtained identities, crime was
much more common among them.
Wrote Harold Bell Wright to John Patric:
. . . We all know that the deplorable state of
business ethics disclosed is by no means confined to
the repairing of automobiles, radios, watches, etc.
The condition revealed by your investigation is no
more than the small pimple which sometimes evi-
dences the presence of a deadly cancer.
. . . The appalling thing about it all is that
ninety-nine out of a hundred readers of your factual
demonstration will say "of course, we know it, but
business is business." The common belief is that only
fools and credulous idealists these days believe in
the possibility of honest ways of living. The ap-
palling thing, I say, is that these dishonesties are so
universally applauded as good business and smart
I still believe that the instinct peculiar to man
which incites him to brotherly love and kindness, to
honor and honesty, to justice and sacrifice, to loyalty
and integrity, to idealism and faith, will eventually
lift the race out of this muck of materialism.
Critics of this survey have suggested that the
revelations indicate a general American trend
toward petty swindling, a habit much more com-
mon in older countries where economic pressure
has been much more severe. It would be un-
fortunate if this were true ; but it is not too late
by any means to head off any such trend. Fifty
years ago and less dishonesty in the United States
was more or less a natural characteristic of great
corporations. Public opinion corrected that;
public opinion can correct any modern trend
toward crookedness on the part of little business.
270 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU
Public opinion, after all, is reputation, and repu-
tation is precisely the opposite of the anonym-
ity which fosters cheating.
Confidence in public opinion is the factor
which directly refutes the charge that Ameri-
cans are increasingly dishonest. Public opinion
was notably shocked by the articles on repair-
men; it was shocked because public opinion is set
against "smart" practices in business. The nation
which retains so alert and vigorous a public opin-
ion is, by desire and intent, an honest nation.
In that direction lies the only sound corrective
for the cheating our investigators unearthed.
Laws will not do it; laws never make men honest.
But the prestige of honesty, the jealous pride of
good reputation will do it. All men covet being
known as honorable men; therefore the more
publicity the subject gets, the better. Hence the
articles, hence this book. An open public atti-
tude encourages honesty and discourages crook-
Responsible repairmen in any community can
undertake to correct their own evils. No out-
siders can do it nearly so well. Too, the great
national manufacturers should think carefully
about organized effort in the same direction. The
manufacturer, throughout these surveys, appears
as a solid, reliable, and very important factor.
He is conspicuous; that is, he has no anonymity,
he has a reputation. He has every motive to de-
liver good products and to encourage the best of
service for them. He can well ponder closer
relations with his field representative.
But more powerful than reason, more effective
than pleading, is pride, personal pride, pride in
the craft. The repairman today is a technician;
how can he help being proud of his standing?
WILC GYP YOU
DONT WATCH OUT
First and last drawings in a Sunday page by Webster. Although, in this
case, The Timid Soul found a truthful mechanic, Caspar Milquetoast
admitted in a letter to the authors that "often I'm not so fortunate."
Why is Repairmen May Gyp You in an "author's edition"?
Here are some of the reasons: comments taken from letters
of readers of Yankee Hobo in the Orient, which to date has
sold nearly twice as many copies in its author's editions as it
did in all the five editions that were published by Doubleday
"I always thought / was a freedom-loving man, but never realized
how little I really knew about freedom until I read your magnificent
book. You tell it so simply ! How I wish every man and woman in the
whole world could read Yankee Hobo in the Orient. We'll cherish our
copy always." Joe Shirlow, service station, Oakland, New Jersey
"Parts of it are sheer delight, and all of it is absorbing." Helen
Hironimus, warden, Women's Federal Penitentiary Alderson, West Va.
"Mother wrote me about your book. I want a copy for my son.
Here's a check written on a scrap of wrapping paper all I have in
the jungle. It'll be good." Major Perley Lewis, somewhere in Burma
"Your own new edition of Yankee Hobo in the Orient is superior
in every way to the Doubleday editions. Herewith check, and the names
of ten friends to whom 1 want the book sent as gifts." Ed Hill
"Turned the last page as reluctantly as I close Lin Yu Tang and
Thomas Wolfe." Sara Dorris Hodson, Harrisburg, Illinois
"Bob brought Yankee Hobo in the Orient home and stood in the
kitchen reading it aloud while I got supper. I was so interested that I
let the applesauce burn. We were having guests; Bob had to go and
buy a bakery pie. I'm pretty busy raising five youngsters, but I enjoyed
every word in your fine book." Mary Williamson, Austin Texas
"The writing flows, while the reader just floats on and on with it.
And you have the oddest sense of humor I've ever encountered!"
Maxine Kisor, singer, Avalon-by-the-Lake, Canandaiga, New York
"I read a borfowed copy of your new 8th edition. Now I want one
for myself, another for a gift." Alice Greenacre, attorney, Chicago
"Not only a well-told story; I admire the physical makeup of the
book." James Chillman, Jr., director, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
"Everyone to whom I lend your book in my deplorable but beloved
country in Heidelberg, Stuttgart, Hamburg and Berlin is grateful
to me for the privilege of reading it." Paul Amman, Germany
"Everything about your own new edition is attractive. You gave
great thought and attention to every detail. Wish Methuen could print
some editions like it." J. A. White, book publisher, London, England
"The best since Richard Halliburton." Wolfe Stalmaker-Haven
"Read it enviously. Adventure such as this I would have loved
in my youth; now I must enjoy it vicariously." Anne Grant Rogers
"Many of us here at the office and at home, my wife have liked
Yankee Hobo in the Orient. Most interested in how you got along on
so little money. I enjoyed the tale of the White Russian beauty."
Wheeler Sammons, Jr., associate publisher, Who's Who in America
Yankee Hobo is now in
its ninth edition. It is
a good gift book,
Fine cloth edition
postpaid at $3.50
tagstock cover, $1
shop does not stock
Yankee Hobo, it may be
ordered from Frying Pan Creek
at Florence, Oregon. Please allow the
author a little time to fill your order. He may be
up the Creek fishing, off on another hobo trip,
or back in New York getting out a new edition. In
such cases the order would have to be forwarded.
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"Here," says The Indianapolis News,
is an adventure in good reading the
acquisition of useful knowledge
from an intelligent and well-
written book. Its amusing
anecdotes and significant
observations, are unusually
"Before he went to the
Orient," says Time, "Patric
lived in the United States
in the way a poor Japanese
lives in Japan. This was to
save money for his journey
and to condition himself
for life in the Orient. It
was money well spent. The
book is a candidly simple
record of traveling light in
lands that most Americans
see expensively, if at all."
Liberty Magazine and The Chicago Tribune called this
volume: "contemporary American Lafcadio Hearn."
The Observer in London
remarks: "A rare, unusual
book by a vivid narrator,"
Time & Tide: "The book
has careful observation and
clarity, sustained interest
and originality, sense and
fun an animating spirit
that's mellow and tender."
London Times: "Original;
and entertaining." And in
Edinburgh, The Scotsman:
"Independent, frank, and
direct." The Irish Times,
of Dublin: "Ships, trains,
restaurants, inns, men and
notably women, come
to life in the pages of this
volume. There cannot be
many better." Additional
press comment appears on the inside of this jacket, the part
that lies against the cover of the book and is usually blank.
oaner. cloth, $3.50. Newsprint, taestock cover, $1